The Campaign for Pubs is celebrating the news that, after years as a tenant, Carol Ross has completed the purchase of the historic Roscoe Head pub in Liverpool City Centre.

Elated: New Roscoe Head owner, Carol Ross

After a long campaign, and with the premises being sold from one pub-owning company to another, when Carol was on the verge of applying to go free of tie, the multi-award-winning publican has bought the pub from New River Retail/Hawthorn Leisure.

The tiny but beautiful Roscoe Head is a jewel in the crown of the Liverpool pub scene, a cosy and characterful, grade II listed, Edwardian gem. Named after William Roscoe, a prominent 19th century anti-slavery campaigner, it has been in Carol’s family for well over 30y years, and is one of the ‘famous five’ pubs to have appeared in every single edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Good Beer Guide since it was first published in 1974.

Carol took over the pub from her mother in 1997. Formerly an old fashioned Tetley Walker tenancy, as with most former brewery pubs circumstances changed for the Roscoe Head after the Beer Orders of 1989 and the pub ended up within the new style pubco model, being passed from corporate pillar to post and eventually ending up under a tied lease with Punch Taverns.

The pressure and iniquity of the arrangement drove Carol to take up campaigning for a better deal for all tied pubs, and she ended up a key member of the inner circle of committed campaigners who coalesced under the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign banner around Greg Mulholland’s efforts to get the Pubs Code enacted in Parliament in November 2014.

The campaign was successful, but before the new rules came into effect, in the summer of 2016, Punch took the decision to sell off Carol’s successful pub without any warning (tellingly, along with those of several other prominent campaigners) by lumping the Roscoe in with in a batch of 158 supposedly underperforming ‘disposal’ sites, which were sold to a new pubco player, the retail conversion specialist New River Retail (NRR).

Because NRR owned fewer than 500 pubs, it was outside the scope of the legislation for which Carol had helped to fight so hard, and she saw her new-found right to a free-of-tie deal disappear overnight. Instead she would have to keep paying inflated tied prices for a limited range of generic beer, seemingly indefinitely, and as a result, like so many pubco tied licensees, Carol struggled to make a living despite a very healthy trade.

‘At times I thought that battle was never ending’

This led to Carol having to mount an increasingly desperate and draining battle over the past five years to salvage any real future for the pub she loves.

Through her tenacious and relentless efforts, and enlisting the support of her local councillors, MP and campaigners, Carol has worn her landlords down to the point that she has persuaded New River Retail/Hawthorn Leisure to sell her the freehold, and for a reasonable price.

Over the last 12 months, as things came to a head and with Hawthorn Leisure intending to sell the pub from under Carol, the pub was successfully nominated as an asset of community value by the local community, organised by Liverpool CAMRA’s Graham Murray and Steve Downing.

Carol said: “I am truly elated that this has finally come to fruition. At times I thought this battle was never ending. There is only so much stress you can live with and the time nearly came for me to just walk away, but I stuck with it and I am so glad I did, as I would have felt I was letting my family and customers down otherwise.

“I want to say a big thank you to all my Roscoe Head family of supporters who have continued to fight this battle with me for over ten years.  I would like to thank my local councillors, especially Cllr Nick Small, who has continued to support me throughout these hard times.

“Many thanks also to Liverpool CAMRA’s Graham Murray and Steve Downing for organising the asset of community value during lockdown, and to Chris Wright, of the Pubs Advisory Service, and Greg Mulholland, Campaign for Pubs campaign director and chair of the British Pub Confederation, both of whom were directly involved in supporting my case.

The Roscoe Head, Liverpool. Photograph: Matthew Black licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Thanks also to Kim Johnson MP, Gill from legals, and to Kathy Allen of Liverpool City Council. I do also want to thank Hawthorn Leisure and New River Retail for agreeing in the end to sell the pub to me, and especially thank Hawthorn Leisure’s Andy Parker, who helped me get this over the line. 

“I am looking forward to seeing you all back to celebrate when we can open up with no curfew and safe conditions. Now we need to open our pubs normally with no curfew and let us run our pubs in a safe and organised manner which we do every day we open our doors. We police our pubs and keep our families safe every day. That is what we do and I can’t wait to do it, now as the very proud owner of my pub, the Roscoe Head.”

Greg Mulholland said: “We are thrilled that our friend and colleague, Carol Ross, who is a superb publican and campaigner, now owns the pub that she and her family have been running for years. This is great news for her, her customers, and local brewers and suppliers, who can now sell directly to the pub and at a fair price.

“We toast and thank all those who supported Carol, including her local councillors and MP and Liverpool CAMRA members and all who have helped along the way to achieve this great outcome. We also commend Hawthorn Leisure and New River Retail for doing the right thing and selling the pub to Carol and at a fair price as a pub. This is in stark contrast to many pubcos, who would instead sell only to developers, something that is seeing many viable pubs lost against the wishes of local communities.

“The Roscoe Head now has a bright and sustainable future, once we get through lockdown, with Carol at last able to make a decent living from her hard work running this historic pub. She can stock whatever beers and other products her customers want, and local breweries can sell direct.

“This is exactly the future we have been and are campaigning for and we hope to see many more pubs in the hands of the people who run them, which gives a much more sustainable future for many pubs and the communities they serve.”

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