Cocking’s Community Hub
Cocking, near Midhurst, was the centre of great celebration in December 2019, when the “Blue Bell at Cocking” re-opened as a community-based village Hub and was saved from disappearing forever into a housing development. The pub had closed three years earlier and there seemed to be no hope of its return, following a number of unsuccessful attempts to find another owner or tenant.
Alarmed at the prospect of losing this important village asset, a number of dedicated Cocking villagers, led by then Chair Peter Gibbon and Vice Chair Nico Dekker, both local residents, staged an outstanding turnaround in under a year. They set up a not-for-profit Community Benefit Society, sought grants, soft loans, sponsorship and donations, and set up a Community Share Offer. With all these endeavours the Society was able to raise sufficient funds to buy the pub building for £470,000 at the end of April 2019 and open for trade in December 2019
The same team then set about further fundraising to support the final stages of its refurbishment and redecoration. Special activities including ‘Pop-up pubs’, open garden events, and quiz nights were held, plus more effort was spent on applications for the all-important grants from various sponsors and organisations.
So how did they do it? Villagers were determined not to lose the heart of their village. Hub president, the sculptor Philip Jackson said at the time: “We realised we could become just a collection of houses which is not what we want; it would have lost its community feel.”
In October 2018 the project began. Villagers were canvassed, village meetings held, the support of the Parish Council was gained to prevent the property owners obtaining planning permission for a housing development. Subsequently, planning permission was successfully applied for to refurbish the property as a village Hub. The proposed Hub was intended to incorporate the village pub, a restaurant serving good quality pub grub, a café, bed & breakfast, an information centre for visitors to the South Downs National Park, and at a later stage a shop and Post Office. Since that time the Post Office and shop have been taken over separately as a new commercial venture and will remain in its existing site across the road. This was opened in May 2021.
In December 2019 the Blue Bell opened its doors with a large gathering of locals. Although the external works had not been completed, its business and clientele gradually grew, and the refurbished bed and breakfast facilities were due to reopen in March 2020. Then COVID came along, and the Blue Bell had to close in line with Government policy. This was a blow to the community as it meant the true social hub, providing facilities and services to bring the community together and serve visitors were all temporarily lost. However, undaunted, The Blue Bell reopened in July 2020 with a new landlord recruited and in residence. The shut down time had enabled the community and volunteers to completely refurbish the exterior, the garden and the carpark area. After the second shut-down in November 2020, the Blue Bell reopened welcoming all until the third shutdown from Christmas 2020 into 2021.
The Community Hub project has received funding support from a wide range of organisations listed under “Our Supporters”.
“The hub will be a relaxed, accessible venue where people of all ages can enjoy the facilities and activities – a beer or a glass of wine, coffee and chat, enjoy a good meal with friends or stay the night and explore the area.” said Peter Gibbon, when it initially opened. That vision has come through and we are looking forward to the Blue Bell remaining the hub of Cocking life for a very long time.
Catching the spirit
As with any venture, there is always work to be done. The community hub will continue to welcome new shareholders and actively organise fundraising events to support the upkeep of the facilities.
Currently, we have over 130 shareholders plus 60 donors and we are keen for local people who have enjoyed using the Blue Bell to support its future. Shares will also be available to those who are new to the area, especially those who have moved into the village recently. For more information on how to participate go to “Investing”.
History of Cocking and the Blue Bell can be found here