A non-alcoholic lager and a socially-distanced, non-meat burger please!

Graham Shelton, of the Red Lion Northmoor, on how Community-Owned pubs are faring

Goodness me, what a battering we’ve had to endure in these, the antithesis of the “Roaring Twenties”. Today I was assailed with promotions for expensive non-alcoholic gin (only potable with the addition of a hefty dose of the real stuff), yet more offers to buy grey, meat-free “meat”, and the news that the Omicron version of Covid-19 will probably be with us forever. All about as welcome as a brown envelope from the taxman.

Ever the optimist and even in the cold, dark days of the New Year could I really see some green shoots ready to spring forth through all this? Thank God there are.

If there is one area that never ceases to amaze, it’s the Community-Owned pubs sector. Although we lost the Plough at Great Haseley from community ownership (it’s now back in private hands and a very good restaurant, I’m told), we gained the White House at Bladon and are about to gain the Lamb & Flag in St Giles, courtesy of Community-Owned group called the Inklings. More on this from Oxford Drinker Editor Dave Richardson in due course.

These are such exciting developments because not only do community groups care more for their pubs and support them better than the old-style chains, which are increasingly owned by property developers, they also number among their shareholders some seriously talented and entrepreneurial businessmen and women.

As with all pubs, it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster at the Red Lion Northmoor this year. It’s not easy trying to stay positive amid a plethora of changing regulations and a global pandemic. Against this, however, our three luxury shepherd’s huts did a roaring summer trade as people decided to have a safe holiday in the UK instead of braving the stress and cost of a foreign break. Even on Christmas Day the huts were busy! It could be something to do with the log burners, hot water, showers, proper loos and really comfy beds. Great to look out of the window at the lovely country garden and listen to the birds too.

Lisa Neale of the Red Lion, Northmoor receives her GBG award from Oxford Drinker editor Dave Richardson

In common with others, it hasn’t been easy for us to find staff, but front of house and in the kitchen landlords Lisa and Ian Neale have kept the show on the road with a reduced but loyal crew. Thank you. The excellent service never faltered.

Especially when things are tough it is really motivating to receive external recognition, so it was wonderful to receive the Countryside Alliance accolade as South East Pub of the Year. The other coveted prize is to appear in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide again for 2022. We are fortunate indeed to feature again as it’s not easy to keep really good beer, good enough to satisfy the most discerning CAMRA members, so this prize means a lot. Thank you.

Turning to our friends elsewhere in the Oxfordshire Community-Owned Pubs Network, Mike Edwards reports that it’s been busy at the White House Bladon which, along with the Red Lion Northmoor hosted a party of potential Community Pub owners courtesy of the Plunkett Foundation. Mike, the other shareholders and landlord Johnny Roberts have overseen the creation of lovely new toilets including disabled and baby-changing facilities. A new chef – quarter-finalist on Masterchef the Professionals – has joined the team, and it has also been celebrating most recently nomination as Best Pub in Oxfordshire in the Ox in a Box Food Awards.

Another Community-Owned pub high on the list for a shout-out is the White Hart at Wolvercote. Matt Todd says they were grateful for a very generous rent reduction over lockdown, without which it would have struggled. It offered pop-up fish and chips and homemade pizzas, including take-away during lockdown. A community member lent them a large marquee which Matt says “has been a Godsend”. A Beer Fest in October was so successful that there was only half a barrel left at the end! There were bands playing on the Saturday evening, an Oompah Band on the Sunday afternoon and a Shanty session on the Sunday evening. Lovely memorable stuff!

Diana Humphrey with her CAMRA award at the Crown, South Moreton

Chris French reports from the Plough, West Hanney: “The Hanney Community Pub Ltd has a different business model to that of Plunkett-funded or Co-operative Benefit models. We let out the pub to tenants and let them run their business without unnecessary interference.” Chris reports that the food is good, and people come from miles around. When I last visited, the Plough also had its own Sub Four brew on tap: less than 4% alcohol and less than £4: great idea! It is developing a 10-year plan for shareholders to try to enable more people in the community to buy shares. “Our mantra”, he says, “is that our Community-Owned pub is permanent, but tenants and shareholders are temporary.” Food for thought.

News too from another great Oxfordshire Community-Owned Pub: the Abingdon Arms in Beckley. Landlady Vicky reports that they serve food seven days a week featuring fish and lots of local meat. Beers are changed regularly and from local brewers as much as possible. Little Ox’s Yabba Dabba Doo has proved very popular, as has Vale IPA. Oxford Brewery’s Prospect is really popular too, says Vicky. A wood-fired pizza oven “is producing incredible pizzas with all ingredients locally sourced and dough made freshly each day”, and lots of special functions and menu nights are coming in 2022.

The Crown in South Moreton is a local traditional pub just outside our local CAMRA area in South Oxfordshire. Saved from developers in 2016, it is now Community-Owned and locally run. It has recently been awarded Pub of the Season 2021 by CAMRA South Oxfordshire, so well worth a visit! The Crown serves traditional pub grub and has a range of ales and spirits from local breweries and suppliers. All the food is freshly made and all produce is sourced locally to support businesses in the area. It is a dog- and child-friendly place, with its own well equipped “dog station” with everything you could need and also a games table with a range of board and card games.

Over at the Ampleforth Arms in Risinghurst, Oxford, Linda Simms continues to keep the show on the road. There are three hand pumps and regular visits from Tiago’s Fish and Chips van, special performance in the evenings and a really good community feel. More from the “Amp” and our other Oxfordshire Community-Owned Pubs next time.