It was simply awful to see the doors of The Blue Room close. I feel bad. I had stopped going long before then, but I still wanted it for Christmas festivities and birthdays. But there is hope! A group of Blackpool residents set about finding out how to open those dusty doors once more and with added benefits. I caught up with them to find out what it is all about.
– What is your history with the Blue Room?
There are five of us in the steering group at present. Gareth Wright, Rob Hill and Dave Moore are just long time customers of the venue, although Gareth has DJ’d there on occasion in the past. Each of them have long considered the Blue Room their ‘local’ and appreciated it’s atmosphere and it’s commitment to Blackpool’s music and creative community. Graham Moore has hosted open mic nights and quiz nights at the venue, and Iain Brownbridge has worked there as a sound engineer for live bands, as well as managing the recording studios and practice rooms that used to be upstairs. We all have more relevant experience with bars and nightclubs elsewhere though. This is not just a gang of five drinkers who have clubbed together to try to get a pub open. Well, actually it is…but there’s more to us than that.
– How did the community pub idea come about and who was behind the idea?
Gareth loves co-ops and communities coming together to make things their own. He really, really loves it. He wears a co-op badge and if you cut him, he’d bleed co-op (if you can imagine what that looks like. We’re guessing green). Him and Rob were part of the anti-Oyston march at the back end of the 2015-2016 football season and noticed that the Blue Room was still closed. The reason the march started at the pub is because the pub is where Blackpool FC was founded – the pub is part of the town’s history. This turned into a conversation about the fear of the pub being demolished or turned into a shop or apartments.
Gareth is a member of the Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge, which was saved using the community purchase method, and mentioned this as an idea of how we could not only get the pub open again, but see it permanently protected and run for the benefit of the people of Blackpool – he’d seen it work, and he had relevant experience. Rob started Googling things like “Asset of Community Value”. Gareth’s idea, plus Rob‘s tendency to take an idea and run with it, combined together beautifully like a beer-specific Transformer, becoming the Optimus Prime of community action. Soon, this idea was explained to Dave, Graham and Iain – all of whom had been sought out specifically because of their affection for the pub, and a team had been created.
– What is the current progress?
The first and most important part of the battle has already been won. With the assistance of Blackpool Civic Trust (and we want to specifically recognise and thank Joan Humble and Carl O’Hara for their time and help), we were able to obtain an Asset of Community Value status for the Blue Room. This means that its function as a pub is protected, and any change of ownership has to be applied for via the Council, who must alert the Civic Trust, and the community would then be given chance to stop this from happening.
Whilst it doesn’t completely guarantee that it can never be knocked down or become something else, it is now much harder (and therefore less desirable) for a property developer to take this route with it. We wanted to make sure that the Blue Room, when re-opened, remained a pub forever. We’ve gone a long way towards making sure that happens. Having achieved that, the next stage would be to see the pub opened on a community owned basis – with members owning shares in the pub and having a democratic say on how its run and what it offers.
We believe that this is the best way to ensure that its run for the benefit of Blackpool’s people, as opposed to private ownership or an out-of-town pubco who don’t know or understand the town, and just want to cream off the profits. As a community owned, not-for-profit business, any profit the Blue Room made under the community ownership model would be re-invested into deserving causes in the area. We’ve been working on this for some time, and have had to find our way through the processes of setting up a legally-recognised management structure, drawing up a share offer, obtaining legal advice on conveyancing and procurement, dealing with Plunkett and being approved for their ‘More than a Pub’ scheme, and a thousand more behind-the-scenes tasks that we’d never wish to bore you with.
The pub has been professionally surveyed and valued, and the membership/subscription and donation scheme is almost ready to go live, and there will be more information available on this very shortly. We have a tight window of time to raise the necessary funds, but we believe that with the pledges we’ve already received, plus the financial aid we qualify for via Plunkett, it can be done.
– How do you see The Blue Room 5 years from now?
We don’t know. Isn’t that exciting? Once the pub is bought, it will belong to the members who have invested in it, and they will decide how it’s run. Although the steering group will still be here, this isn’t (and has never been) about the five of us owning the pub and taking it forward. We’d love more people to come forward and get involved, and we’d like more people on the management committee if we’re successful. Community pubs work because they use democracy to make sure that all voices are heard. It’s a long term project, but by actively engaging with those who use the building, it can get more buy in and support from the community it serves. Anyone who buys a share can make a suggestion, and the other members can vote on that suggestion.
From a practical point of view, we’d like to be seen as proof that pubs without PubCo involvement simply work better than pubs with ties. We want to be open, healthy, trading, debt free and serving great beer – perhaps even beer brewed on site. The steering group would like there to be a performance space upstairs for creative groups, theatres, artists and musicians, as well as a meeting room for charities, small business and other relevant interest groups.
We’d love to cement our ties with Blackpool FC supporters groups, earn awards from CAMRA, operate a micro-brewery, have a picture behind the bar of the Queen coming in for a pint of mild, and much more – but ultimately, what does and doesn’t happen will be decided by the members. That’s the beauty of it. The steering group can advise, and we’re here to make sure it stays on the right track, but ultimately we’d like you to think of the Blue Room as a baby. It can grow on its own. We’re just here to make sure the nappy gets changed when its dirty, stop it from crying, and keep it out of the hands of people who would do it harm.
– What can we expect to see happening for The Blue Room in the near future?
In the very near future? An awful lot of noise. We need donations, fundraisers, professionals who are willing to offer their time and support, and activists in the local area willing to go out and spread the word. Word of mouth is critical to our success in the short term. Priority number one is getting the pub open, and that will come first before we can even look at any of the additional things we’d like to see happen in the building.
If all is successful, the next stage is formally making the bid and having it accepted, and getting people in to do essential repairs and maintenance work. Again, if there are qualified people out there – electricians, plumbers, carpenters – we’d love to hear from them. This is your pub if you want it. Come and be part of it. On schedule, if everything goes our way, we’d like to be open by April or May.
– How can people get involved?
Come and give the page a like at www.facebook.com/theblueroombpl – we post a lot of updates on there and there’s good engagement with the community on that page. If Facebook isn’t for you, email us at [email protected] and ask to be added to our mailing list. We’re desperate for people to get involved; if you have a skill you think would help us, we want to know! If you think you can raise funds, we want to know! If you’d like to become a member, guess what? We want to know! The share offer is about to go live and the first place you’ll see it is either via email or on that Facebook page. If you want to be a part of it, and make sure this famous old pub doesn’t die, the time for getting splinters in your arse is over. The time for standing up and becoming part of something bigger is right now. Much like a family, an army or Simon and Garfunkel, we’re stronger together. Even if you can’t afford to donate or become a member, you could help us just by telling someone else about what we’re doing. There’s not one Bono or Bob Geldof in this group, we don’t just want your money. We want YOU to save the Blue Room.
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