Pub enters golden age of community ownership

Many of the regulars at the Golden Ball are also the owners. Photographs: Nick Love
19 Dec 2012 @ 6.57 am
| Food & drink

Many of the regulars at the Golden Ball are also the owners. Photographs: Nick Love
York CAMRA’s Nick Love pays a visit to a local pub that’s run by the locals

“Community pub” is a term that conjures evocative images in your mind of what an ideal local may be. Somewhere that is welcoming to all; that is a conduit for local clubs, groups and organisations as well as a haven for the lonely or those who have just moved to the area.

It is a focal point, a meeting place, a source of bonhomie and joy as well as somewhere to gather before or after more sombre events. It raises money for good causes and local charities, it enables networking for local businesses and in more remote parts it serves multiple purposes such as a post office and village shop.

Whilst many locals that frequent community pubs feel a genuine empathy with the place, it is rare that they go so far as to invest in it.

Which brings us to the Golden Ball – where this is exactly what they have done: 183 of them to be precise. They’re not just regulars – they’re shareholders who invested £400 each.

Such is the genuine affection for this welcoming and homely street corner hostelry in Bishophill, that faced with an uncertain future and long serving publicans wanting to retire, this multifarious co-operative of residents decided they wanted a direct say in its future such was its importance to the fabric of local life. The popularity of this pub transcends this sceptred isle – with expats from as far away as China, India, Peru and Canada buying a stake in the business.

Entering a new era… the Golden Ball on Cromwell Road, York

What is most striking though is that these people are not somnolent stakeholders – they are selflessly, actively contributing to the look and feel of the building, not just by frequenting it during licensing hours – but by donating their time, skills and possessions as well.

Electricians and gas engineers for example, have been utilised during the sympathetic refurbishment and being able to draw on the varied skillsets of the extended membership has been key to keeping costs down and epitomises the fraternal and sororal nature of the whole Golden Ball project.

The internal fabric of the building has benefited from the generosity of co-operative members as well – with some authentic original prints adorning the walls such as the ornate Three Bells picture in the bar billiards room.

The dichotomous nature of Victoriana hanging alongside contemporary art adds a happy dissonance to the lounges though and showcasing original works for sale from York artists such as Rory Motion and David Patrick is the latest initiative in supporting the local economy.

The subject matter of the art is indigenous as well with Motion’s wonderfully effervescent depictions of York Minster with their kaleidoscopic colours being complemented by Patrick’s more reserved but beautifully crafted and detailed depictions of the city walls a stone’s throw away from the pub.

Original works of art now adorn the pub's walls

When I last visited a few days ago, none of the initial enthusiasm and patronage had tapered off. Open fires flickered their magnetic charm in a bar virtually untouched since 1929, amid the hum of genial discourse of the assorted throngs that conversed happily whilst imbibing six very well kept real ales.

New landlady Karen Cranfield has made an immediate impact on this hugely important side of the business, eschewing the clichéd selection of national brands in favour of those mostly from small independents.

There are a variety of strengths and styles as well, with a commitment that drinkers will always find a beer on the bar 3.9% or below in strength and that there will always be a dark beer in stock. There will also be at least one “Locale” beer from a brewery within 25 miles of York. This should ensure that there is something to appeal to the zythophile (look it up – Ed) and casual drinker alike and given Karen’s previous management experience at one of York’s best real ale pubs, this place is in very good hands.

Now that the beer is in hand, there are plans for a discerning wine list and maybe a cheese and wine launch event to enable people to taste what is on offer. Slightly more long term are thoughts of offering draught off-sales – and the more observant may notice the door to the former “Jug and Bottle” on the outside of the building where this activity formerly took place.

The Golden Ball is unique being York’s only pub co-operative. It is so much more than that though, as it exemplifies the definition of community. It is the sum of so many wonderful and diverse parts that come together in common ownership of something that is truly special in the lives of many York residents.