What would you change about your local pub, given the chance?
That hypothetical question posed over many a pint up and down the country suddenly became a very real one for drinkers at the Gardeners Rest in Neepsend, Sheffield.
When the old owners sold up to enjoy their retirement touring Britain’s canals, around 420 people answered the call to preserve the charms of this quirky riverside watering hole, raising £236,000 by buying shares.
One year since the venue, on the outskirts of trendy Kelham Island, was bought by the community, not too much has changed – but that’s just how the regulars, many of whom are now joint owners, like it.
Mark Powell, secretary of the community society which was set up to run the pub, says: “Our job is to preserve what was here when we took over, while making some small changes.
“It’s got to be evolution rather than revolution, and the last year has been a journey of discovery about how we can make that work.”
So far, everything that made so many people want to save the pub, from the regular live music and eclectic artwork to the changing line-up of real ales, has stayed.
But there have been changes, like the introduction of a card machine to haul it into the 21st century, the removal of tripping hazards from the delightfully eccentric garden and the addition of sandwiches and pork pies.
The club room upstairs has been refurbished, enabling it to host events, and there are plans to open up more of the top two floors and give the toilets a much-needed makeover.
The events calendar has also been bolstered with weekly art therapy sessions, monthly poetry slams and beer festivals allowing punters to drink their way around the world.
One of the big goals when the community took over was to give disadvantaged people - too often consigned to the ‘scrapheap’ of society, as Mark puts it - the chance to gain new skills and job opportunities.
Staff and trainees now include people with learning disabilities and a woman who was struggling to make ends meet on a zero-hours contract, explains Mark, all of whom had found regular employment hard to come by but are now doing a ‘great job’ at the pub.
The eight-strong board take care of the day-to-day management but everyone is encouraged to volunteer when necessary.
It was all hands to the pumps for the recent beer festival, and when a troupe of morris dancers retires to the pub after practice every Monday one of them gets behind the bar to help serve the drinks.
Even with the takeover completed and the pub now turning a healthy profit, new shareholders are still welcome, but no matter how large the investment everyone has an equal say.
With so many owners, is it ever hard reaching a decision that pleases everyone?
“It's a democratic process. There’s an AGM where the board’s elected and that board’s allowed to get on with it,” says Mark.
“I think it’s healthy that there will be mutterings in the bar about how someone would have done it this way or that way instead.
“I don’t think there’s anything which has caused great grief so far. It's usually the little things like the style of glasses we use or where the piano should be placed which generate the most debate.”