Wickham Market’s George Community Pub secures vital National Lottery support

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The George Community Pub, Wickham Market, Suffolk has received initial support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund Heritage Enterprise Scheme for the reconstruction of the historic, fire-damaged George Inn as a community-owned pub, it was announced today. Made possible by National Lottery players, the project aims to restore what was the village’s last surviving public house as a going concern at the heart of the community. It will incorporate community space for a wide-range of activities, including heritage-related experiences, intended to make Wickham Market a better place to live and to combat loneliness and isolation by bringing all walks of life together in a convivial and welcoming atmosphere.

Development funding of £82,000 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to help The George Community Pub (Wickham Market) Limited progress their plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant at a later date. There is still much work for the Society’s volunteers and its professional team to do, but with the full grant, additional funding (including a second share offer – details for which can be found on the Society’s website http://www.wmgeorge.co.uk/), detailed plans and planning permission in place, reconstruction work is expected to commence in 2022 with ‘the first pints being pulled’ in mid-2023.

The project will restore the George Inn, latterly the only pub in Wickham Market (a community of some 2,300 people), which, without it, has no viable commercial future. Once restored, a sustainable community pub business will bring economic benefits to Wickham, and create local jobs. The George will be ‘more than a pub’ – during reconstruction works an ambitious programme of heritage activities will engage professionals, students and the widest possible range of local residents though volunteering, training, hard hat tours, workshops, oral history, research, photography and arts projects; its impact, subsequently, being sustained by a dedicated Community Activity Co-ordinator, using the pub and its dedicated community space to promote the village’s heritage, and heritage in general, to a wide audience. In operation, The George will host weekly events such as Dementia Cafés, Mother and Toddler Groups, arts groups, music and talks. Wickham Market will become a better place to live, work and visit as a lasting legacy of the project. In the future, trading surpluses will be used to support other community groups and initiatives for the benefit of all. Widespread support for the Project has been demonstrated through consultation, fundraising events, volunteering and the sale, to date, of nearly £130,000-worth of intentionally affordable, shares to some 330 residents and supporters from all walks of life.

When The George burnt down in April 2013, it became clear that Wickham Market was in danger of losing not only an historic building (Grade II[2]-listed and, after the fire, placed on the Suffolk Historic Buildings at Risk Register) but also its last trading public house. Just over a hundred years ago there were no less than seven inns and pubs in the village, then with a population of about 1,400. These establishments served not just as social meeting places, but as, at various times, venues for auctions of properties, farm produce and goods; places where rents were paid, debts were settled, inquests held and where wills were executed; collection and delivery points for goods, livestock, passengers and mail (Wickham was on the major stage coach route between Yarmouth and London and to the London markets), as ‘lost property offices; meeting places for local administration and public groups; and, as ‘recruitment agencies’ for workers and servants (see the Society’s website http://www.wmgeorge.co.uk/history/history-bygones/ for stories of The George’s past). A number of these roles continued into the living memories of the village’s older residents. The community were determined that The George, and the community history and social amenity it represented, should not be lost, having it listed as an Asset of Community Value (see https://mycommunity.org.uk/take-action/land-and-building-assets/assets-of-community-value-right-to-bid/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw5MLrBRClARIsAPG0WGwxqfeXHfcH07yOTQRTFDlx9cVX2nXIVHqt2BXXQlRSPzJyJMBcjBQaApVWEALw_wcB) in early 2017.

Up until the fire, The George had been a public house, for, at least, 360 years. Indeed, the fire revealed that the building, thought to date to the 18th century, in fact had its origins in the late 15th or early 16th century and, from structural evidence, may even have been purpose-built as an inn then. Surveys established that major parts of the historic structure could be conserved and restored and, so, its demolition was strongly resisted not only by the community but also by local council Conservation and Planning Officers.

Commenting on the award, Society Chairman, Bill Wolfe-Evans, who lives less than 30 metres from The George, said:

“By George we did it!

On behalf of shareholders and supporters we are absolutely thrilled and extremely grateful to have received support from National Lottery players. For centuries The George Inn has served Wickham Market and it was almost lost forever following the fire. Thanks to our community’s generosity, that of previous funders who have recognised and shared our vision, and now the National Lottery Heritage Fund we can now look forward to restoring this wonderful building for future generations.”

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