The White Swan sits on Gressenhall Green and is the last remaining pub in this rural village just outside East Dereham, Norfolk. The pub closed in 2018 and following an unsuccessful change of use application, remained in a state of disrepair. In 2020, the villagers rallied together to form Gressenhall Community Enterprise Ltd (GCE), a Community Benefit Society, and launched the ‘Save our Swan’ campaign. The community successfully raised enough funds from 430 investors (with the majority living within five miles of the pub) and along with a grant and loan were able to take possession of the pub in January 2021. An army of volunteers then set about the mammoth task of refurbishing The White Swan and after an estimated 6,000 hours of volunteer time, the pub re-opened on the 26th May 2022.
In the rear garden of The White Swan sat a dilapidated stable block, and after conducting a survey the residents were in favour of flexible use for these stables. The committee came across Pub is The Hub following a search online for support for village pubs and sought their help. Volunteers from the village re-roofed the stables, insulated them, laid limestone flooring, re-applied traditional limewash, built a pizza oven within the old chimney, installed a woodburner, installed bifold doors, clad the openings with locally donated English Ash and had professionals re-wire and re-plumb the building. There is now a newly installed pizza oven at one end of the building, a darts board and a wood-burner in the centre for those colder days and nights. After much time, effort and love, this previously derelict and underused building has transformed into a multipurpose Meeting Place.
Outcomes so far
- The Stables is a new space that will help bring people together. It means the pub will be able to host more groups such as Knit and Natter and have space for meetings. It will also play a key role in keeping people in the village connected to help combat social isolation.
- The White Swan Stables now boasts a building to be proud of with bi-fold glass doors looking out onto the garden and a flagstone flooring giving easy access for wheelchair users or those with health conditions or impairments.
- The space can seat 30 (all the chairs were refurbished and reupholstered by volunteers) and can be configured in layouts for business or group meetings as well as serving as overflow for the pub seating in the busiest periods.
- The room with exposed original beams, pendant lighting and donated art from the community is a meeting place to make new friendships and help combat isolation and loneliness.
Lessons to learn
- The Stables needed to be a multifunctional space that has eat in options and in the future takeaway options too, as well as doubling up as an event space available for hire, which will diversify the pub’s audiences and appeal
- An inclusive policy catering for those with additional needs aims to ensure parts of the community are not excluded, making The White Swan the hub of the community.
- Having the support of people in the village is crucial. With support of a local building firm, plus over 100 different people actively volunteering their time, with over 6000 hours work to create a beautiful village pub.
Pub is The Hub regional advisor Terry Stork said: “The White Swan is at the heart of this village offering a place for people to get together.