'It's a thing of beauty' - community group saves 'iconic' north Suffolk pub

iFarm

Thelnetham locals outside The White Horse, which is now operating as a community pub - Credit: iFarm

A community group in Thelnetham, near Suffolk's border with Norfolk, have clubbed together to secure the future of the village's pub. 

The White Horse Pub has been taken over by a community benefit society called iFarm, which also operates a community farm near the River Little Ouse in Norfolk. 

iFarm's core purpose is to work to reduce social isolation and loneliness. 

Joolz Thompson, managing director of iFarm, said: "Our community benefit society was set up in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

"We purchased a bit of land just across the Little Ouse river, one mile from the pub. While we were completing the offer for the land, we noticed the White Horse was shut. 

The White Horse in Thelnetham is close to Suffolk's border with Norfolk

The White Horse in Thelnetham is close to Suffolk's border with Norfolk - Credit: iFarm

"We decided, as part of our purpose of combating social isolation and loneliness that a pub is core to that purpose. Really, it is the beating heart of the village, so we decided we should save and restore it."

Speaking about his own connection to the pub, Mr Thompson said: "I grew up in the village of Hopton, about a mile from Thelnetham.

"My brother and I spent a lot of my youth playing pool at the pub, and his kids have gone on to try out to play pool for England.

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"The White Horse Has always been an iconic destination in Suffolk, which everyone has very fond memories of."

Mr Thompson continued: "We had a protracted negotiation with the owner of the pub. This first involved the vendor accepting an offer from an individual who wanted a change of use to turn it into a residential dwelling.

"They occupied the property for about 6 months, but during that time we completed an asset of community value nomination, which was accepted by the council."

"This process was concurrent with the change of use application — I wrote 7,000 words plus appendices about the history of the pub and why it has so much value to the community. 

"This gives certain protections to an asset of community value: It cannot just be sold, it must be offered to the community."

This process resulted in them gaining a license to operate the pub for 12 months, starting from this March, and gave them the option to purchase – which means the vendor can't sell the pub to anyone else in the meantime. 

Mr Thompson added: "This means we have 11 months to raise enough money to save our pub. This gives us some breathing space and a cast-iron guarantee that it will be sold to the community when we're successful in raising the money."

"We've opened a lot more quickly than we originally planned. We'd thought we'd settle in and have at least a month to get our feet under the table and everything cleaned up. 

"In fact, we opened our doors within a couple of weeks of getting the tenancy, because we need to move at speed, we need to be open, and we need to fundraise."

He added: "Loads of residents from the village have stepped forward to help with everything from gardening to bookkeeping to food safety. 

"We have been extremely busy the past couple of weekends, and had some donations too – a publican friend in London donated a keg of pale ale.

"It has been a thing of beauty."