Campaigners who saved the Puzzle Hall Inn, in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, have been recognised with the Campaign for Real Ale’s pub saving award. 

The Puzzle Hall Inn team outside the pub

The Puzzle Hall Community Pub Ltd, a not-for-profit community benefit society, raised £172,860 from the local community to purchase and refurbish the pub, which was fast falling into a derelict state. The 17th century building, located between the canal and the river in Sowerby Bridge, once included a brewery, which has since been turned into accommodation.

Crowdfunding to save the local launched in 2017, and campaigners received critical social investment and support from Big Society Capital, the More Than a Pub fund, the Plunkett Foundation, Calderdale, and the Key Fund. With their help, an offer was made on the pub the following year.  

In December 2019, the pub re-opened after an extensive refurbishment, which one of the judges described as ‘a great community effort to literally save both a local and regional presentation’. Work to refurbish the pub is ongoing, with continual help and input from volunteers. 

Sam Irvine, from the Puzzle Hall Community Pub Ltd, said: “It is a real honour to be recognised with CAMRA’s pub saving award. Obviously, when we took on this project in 2017, we were in a very different situation to the one we face today with covid restrictions. My hope is that we’ll be able to re-open the pub as soon as possible so that it can continue to serve as an intrinsic hub to the local community.” 

Runner-up for the award is the campaign to save the Air Hostess, in Tollerton, South Nottinghamshire. After a successful application to become an asset of community value was made in 2017, the pub was able to continue trading under Everards, of Leicester. Unfortunately, after a couple of years of dwindling trade, it was announced that the pub and its associated land were to be disposed with.  

The new interior of the Air Hostess, Tollerton

In response, the community, supported by the parish council, began fundraising to purchase the pub. More than 400 residents purchased shares, and in March 2020 the pub was finally bought from Everards by the community. Volunteers project managed the renovation and the agreement of a lease with local award-winning tenants for them to trade the pub on an ongoing basis. 

Matt Garrard, chair of Tollerton Flying Club, who led the campaign to save the Air Hostess, said: “We are delighted to be recognised in this way — 2020 has been a challenging year in many ways, but the campaign to save the renovate the Air Hostess has been a highlight for the village. The way that everyone has come together is testament to the strength of our community, even in these difficult times.” 

The announcement of the pub saving award winner and runner-up comes at a time when the nation’s pubs are all in need of greater support. The work of volunteers around the country has been crucial to helping pubs survive the covid-19 pandemic and ongoing lockdowns and restrictions they face. 

Co-ordinator of the award, Paul Ainsworth, said: “Congratulations to both the Puzzle Hall Community Pub Ltd and the Tollerton Flying Club, which are fantastic examples of what can be achieved when community groups come together to support their local.” 

Presentation events for the two community groups will take place in 2021, pending changes to the current restrictions.

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