After standing empty for more than a year, Ye Olde Cross in Ryton, Ga..." /> Ye Olde look to the future – Cheers North East

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Published on September 3rd, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Ye Olde look to the future

After standing empty for more than a year, Ye Olde Cross in Ryton, Gateshead, has been bought and reopened by more than 300 members of the community. Volunteers have spent months renovating the former Enterprise Inns-owned pub, adding an accessible toilet and modernising the bar area.

Ye Olde Cross had stuttered and strived for years; its owners not quite knowing what they wanted the pub to be – an Italian restaurant with bar or a pub with little vision. Granted, it’s difficult even for those with local knowledge to gauge the mood and set a business on a course of profitability, but surely this

lovely piece of architecture, built in the style of a Victorian villa and quite an imposing sight at the edge of the village green, deserved more than slow strangulation.

Ryton resident Colin Cheesman launched a campaign to save the pub when it originally closed in 2017. The former taxi driver printed flyers and delivered them to his neighbours by hand. They took advantage of new rules that allow communities to have their local designated an “asset of community value” (ACV), making it harder for the owner to redevelop the site as accommodation.

Once a local council has designated a pub as an ACV, a six-month moratorium is placed on development plans, giving anyone interested in saving the pub time to raise funds to bid for it.

Ye Olde Cross is one of more than 70 community-owned pubs across the UK, none of which have closed after being saved by their community. Shareholders from Gateshead to Sydney and Hexham to Hungary helped raise almost £200,000 to buy the building and begin renovation work.

Ryton Cross Community Society also secured a grant and loan from the Plunkett Foundation and Power to Change’s More Than A Pub programme to help with the purchase.

Colin Cheesman said: “I can’t believe how far we’ve come. I said it had to happen, it meant so much to me, and sometimes I can’t believe we’ve actually done it. We’ve found tenants to run The Cross on a day-to-day basis who are really welcoming and understand the ethos of a community pub, and it’s going to be great to work together to secure its future.”

Ryton Cross Community Society took inspiration from one of the village’s most celebrated sons. At the White House, yards from the pub on the other side of the green, Charles Thorp created the country’s first “penny bank” that allowed those with small incomes to borrow money at rates they could afford.

Now the ground-floor bar is sparkling and animated. Every design trick in the book has elevated a previously dowdy and run-of-the-mill interior into a colourful and engaging home from home, such as exposed brickwork and tinted timber panelling. Local beers feature on the bar from Firebrick to First & Last breweries as part of a revolving programme. Seating has been refurbished (bet you never knew there were so many styles of chair), and there’s always something special about a vase of fresh flowers on the counter.

The pub’s new tenants, Abigail and Andrew Billingham, said: “We are extremely excited. We’ve had so much support and wonderful feedback from the community. We’ve already got a quiz night up and running and we’re trying out some dancing in the bar at the moment. We’re got tonnes of plans for the future and we’re excited to help make this a pub that really serves the people of Ryton and the wider area.”

Future plans include community events from yoga classes, farmers markets and coffee mornings, to schemes to help tackle social isolation and loneliness in the community as well as offering work experience to youngsters. Grants have come via Awards for All and Big Lottery to renovate the exterior of the building and the garden areas. The tenants are working towards letting out apartments for holiday guests and a new kitchen is moving up the priority list.

There’s still a long way to go but what has been achieved at Ye Olde Cross should stand as a model for other community groups hoping to save their local. AG


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Alastair Gilmour



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