On the Ground: St Aidan's Community Trust

Sarah Speight

Scheme: St Aidan's Community Trust - the Rookhope Inn

Funding: Loan of £120,000 - £60,000 each from Unity Trust Bank and the Local Investment Fund to buy the premises.

A further £120,000 was raised from various sources, including the Northern Rock Foundation and the Sir Charles Hayward Trust to renovate the building

Objectives: To breathe new life into the remote village of Rookhope

A once-derelict inn has been revived as a thriving pub, and now also serves as a community centre.

The Rookhope Inn, situated in the remote village of Rookhope, County Durham, has become the hub of the local community.

Nigel Price, a Unity Trust relationship manager, said that the scheme shows the potentially valuable role of pubs in helping to regenerate village life.

In 2001, Prince Charles launched a report called The Pub is the Hub, which highlights the key social role that pubs could play in rural communities.

"The Rookhope Inn is a great example of how a village pub can become a community hub," commented Price.

Chris Jones, project development officer in Rookhope, said: "The pub was the last peg in any kind of community structure in Rookhope before it became derelict. It is now back in business, and has become a kind of community centre, with lots of activities running there."

He added that the pub is once again the focal point of the village, offering locals a place to meet and learn new skills.

The project has helped to regenerate the village of Rookhope, which suffered economic decline after the area's major employer, a cement works, closed down in 2002. The community was also affected by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The inn was reopened in 2003 after local community group, St Aidan's Community Trust, received a £120,000 loan from Unity Trust Bank and the Local Investment Fund to buy the premises.

"It was when we heard about Unity's 'rent to buy' scheme that we contacted them," said Jones. He added that, on top of the initial funding, other grants and income associated with the community activities are making the project work.

Activities include courses run by a local college in information technology and other skills, a youth forum and a bicycle-hiring scheme. Local groups also hold meetings in the building.

The building houses a purpose-built training room for courses, a room devoted to young people, and guest rooms.

Jones added that since the pub reopened, it has attracted visits from residents of villages facing similar challenges: "There has been a lot of interest in what we're doing, and I think our approach could be replicated in other communities."

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