The bohemian riverside pub in Sheffield which now has 420 owners

One of Sheffield's most bohemian boozers is finally in the hands of drinkers who took over the management six months ago - all 420 of them!

Monday, 23rd October 2017, 5:51 pm
Updated Monday, 11th December 2017, 9:01 pm
Mark Powell and fellow community shareholders at The Gardeners Rest

The Gardeners Rest in Neepsend has been run since April by a mixture of regulars and real ale lovers who united to preserve its unique character.

They now own the charming riverside venue, after the sale was completed last week, paving the way for some long-awaited changes.

Mark behind the bar at The Gardeners Rest

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Those include installing a new kitchen and re-upholstering the worn seating, which community shareholders hope to complete by Christmas.

Mark Powell, who was a driving force behind the takeover, said: "The last six months have been terrific and we've truly enjoyed developing the pub, but it's nice to become the owners rather than leaseholders.

"Until now we haven't been able to tamper with the fabric of the building, so we're keen to make a new kitchen so we can offer food every day and create jobs for those who need them."

The pub has long attracted a loyal following, drawn by its cosy atmosphere, quirky artwork and regular live music as much as the wide range of beers on offer.

Mark behind the bar at The Gardeners Rest

So when longstanding owners Eddy Munnelly and Pat Wilson announced they were selling up to enjoy a quieter life on a narrow boat, customers leapt at the chance to become co-owners.

Around 420 people paid between £100 and £5,000 to become shareholders, each of whom has an equal say in the pub's running regardless of their financial contribution.

They raised £236,000 which, coupled with a £50,000 loan from The Key Fund, enabled the new community society which had been set up to buy the watering hole.

They also received £50,000 plus advice to help them get started from the More Than A Pub programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Power to Change Trust.

Mr Powell said the main goal of shareholders, who range from bankers to molecular biologists, was to preserve the pub's distinctive identity.

Not much needed altering but they have made minor modifications, from investing in broadband internet and a card machine to installing better hand driers.

There is also a commitment to providing opportunities for disadvantaged members of the community, including people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health problems - anyone who, as Mr Powell puts it 'has fallen off the gravy train and needs help getting back on'.

They help staff the venue where, in truly democratic style, shareholders are invited to lend a hand by pulling pints at the busiest times like on 'toast Mondays', when punters receive a complimentary slice of toasted bread with their drinks.

The regular music nights remain, a monthly 'guerilla poetry' evening has been set up and the pub is also reaching out to community groups to offer them a welcoming space for meetings and events.

The hard work appears to be paying off, with the pub listed in the latest edition of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide and Mr Powell saying custom has risen by about 10 per cent since April.

"There's a really good vibe here and we have lots of live music and plenty of art on the walls. What we're doing is very much inspired by what local people want and can produce," he said.

The Gardeners Rest is the eighth community-owned pub to have been set up with support from the £3.6 million More Than a Pub programme, which is delivered by the Plunkett Foundation.

Jenny Sansom, programmes manager at Power To Change, said: "This is wonderful news. The Gardeners Rest will stay in the community, in the hands of the people who value it most.

"Crucially, the pub will now offer more than just pints. Local people will have space to hire for their own community events, and The Gardeners Rest will look to offer job opportunities to people in danger of slipping out of the workforce."