The 200-year-old pub was destined to be demolished until the community took it upon themselves to rescue it
When a Cheshire village’s beloved pub ceased trading, it looked certain it would be lost forever. But six years later, thanks to a heroic effort from the community, it is now on the verge of reopening.
The White Lion has stood at the heart of Hankelow, near Crewe, for 200 years. However, like many pubs in recent times, it was closed in 2016 and was set to be demolished for housing.
A planning application was submitted, proposing to knock down the historic building and erect five four-bedroom detached houses in its place. It was refused by Cheshire East Council but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2017.
Determined not to lose their beloved pub, members of the community convinced the owner to give them some time to raise money and buy the building themselves. This was the beginning of a six-year, £1.65 million ‘passion project’ by around 40 locals to bring the White Lion roaring back to life.
The booking system for the venue will go live on Saturday (March 26) before it opens for drinks on Thursday (March 31). It will then open its kitchen and serve food from April 13.
Chris Charlesworth, who came on board as project manager, said: “The idea was originally to give it a little bit of a face lift and trade it as any other community pub. But when they were prodding around the building it became clear that it was in quite a sorry state structurally. There was significant work required – it needed a new roof and there was about £35,000-worth of drainage that needed to be done.
“So money ran out quite soon into the project. I think £150,000 slipped through their fingers in a matter of months in terms of building work with the structural requirements. There was another local businessman who said he’d fund the project and there were a lot of loan arrangements negotiated.
“We were in danger of ending up in no-man’s land where we could easily spend £300,000 or £400,000 and have a pub that was functional but not special. Then you’re only going to attract the very local area, which is fine but then it’s not going to help repay all these loans.
“So we made the decision to try and go the whole hog as it were, with the intention to draw people from further afield as well and make it a destination. That will hopefully provide the level of turnover that will be required to sustain the level of investment.
“Then of course Covid hit and prices just rocketed along with all sorts of difficulties. So it’s been a long, drawn-out process with things just escalating for a multitude of reasons, time after time.
“But we had more and more shareholders joining the group to put money in along with a couple of investors as well. In the end we managed to pull it off. It probably should have failed a number of times along the way.”
Chris, who is from nearby Audlem, said the ‘community aspect’ had been ‘upheld and acknowledged’ throughout the whole process. He hopes the venue will become a hub where various events and functions can be held throughout the year.
The pub will employ around 30-35 staff once it opens, led by general manager Christaki Frangeskou and chef Jack Fields. The roles will be a mix of cleaners, front of house staff, managers, maintenance staff and gardeners.
Despite the new kitchen, Chris said the directors were keen to ensure the pub wouldn’t become a ‘restaurant that sells beer’. He claimed this had happened to many pubs in the surrounding area.
He said: “By design, there are a lot of pubs in our area that have had a lot of money spend on them that are pretty much restaurants that sell beer. From the beginning we wanted to make sure this would be a place where people could come, meet, socialise and feel comfortable having a drink without food.
“I think those sorts of community hubs are becoming few and far between. To that end we converted the upstairs space for additional dining so we didn’t get to the point where we needed to encroach on the social side of the pub on a Friday and Saturday night.”
And one thing that is setting the establishment apart from other venues is its environmental credentials. These include rooftop solar panels, an infrared ceiling and wall-mounted heating system, an integrated building management efficiency scheme, a rainwater harvesting tank and electric vehicle charging points in the car park.
Chris said: “Because it was a rebuild – we really took it back to the skeleton of the pub – the decision was made early on that it was the logical thing to do. Doing things retrospectively can be very time-consuming and expensive, so we had the opportunity from the beginning to really integrate it from the ground up.
“That decision was taken because we felt it was a moral obligation and it helps with the proficiency of running the actual business as well. One of the directors is involved in renewable energy so they were able to advise quite a lot and put us in the right direction to get us favourable rates.
“It’s been such a long time coming. For the community and the people who put their money into it, they’ve been waiting for years. It’s hugely exciting and it’s such a nice story for a pub to have been saved rather than lost for housing in this day and age.”
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