The inside story on how a ‘bunch of amateurs’ saved a great York pub

30 Nov 2013 @ 5.24 pm
| Food & drink
Community hub – inside the Golden Ball. Photographs: Steve Wilson
Community hub – inside the Golden Ball. Photographs: Steve Wilson

This month locals celebrated their first year running The Golden Ball in York. With pubs closing every day how has a “bunch of amateurs” managed to buck the trend and improve the fortunes of this venerable old boozer? Pete Kilbane reveals all

I think that word “amateur” is much abused. In the original French it means “lover of” and in life it’s always great to focus on what we love. One thing I do know, I love the Golden Ball.

It’s always been a great pub – one to nurture and cherish. A few years ago some friends got together and took over their lovely local in Salford (it’s The Star On The Cliff in case you’re ever over there). We knew that the lease on The Ball was for sale and thought, “why not us too?”

We knew that we would have to raise the money ourselves, as the banks were not lending to people buying pub leases, least of all amateurs. So, with great support from co-op advisers CMS, we drew up a business plan, registered our business and offered shares for sale.

The response was overwhelming. The initial share price had to be dropped so more members could join the co-op. Eventually 189 people bought shares with many more added to the waiting list.

We found that there were many “amateurs” of the Golden Ball out there.

On November 12, 2012, after a long pregnancy, the pub was reborn under co-op ownership. Like all first time parents we soon discovered that the hard work had only just begun!

The pub has a professional manager and bar staff but they can’t do everything. We also needed help with the finance, building maintenance, stock taking, decorating, and much more.

And this is the inspiring part of the Golden Ball story. All of the skills we needed were out there in our community and, when asked, people gave generously. It shows what can be achieved when we get to know each other. We just need the opportunity, a bit of trust in our neighbours and willing amateurs.

A great place to be, inside…
A great place to be, inside…
…and out
…and out

Success story

So has the Golden Ball been a success? Financially it is sound with turnover up about 30 per cent over the year with a healthy profit forecast. The co-op rules dictate that surpluses must be ploughed back into the pub or the locality.

Investing in the staff ticks both those boxes so the pub became one of the few in York (the only one?) to pay all staff the “living wage”, sustained by increased sales.

Other measures of success are less tangible. It’s how it feels to be in a pub run by and for the community. It’s the multitude of meetings, music, arts and activities that bring the place to life during the week. It’s the group of old timers celebrating a birthday in the lounge and the folk having a laugh and making new friends in the bar.

It’s the couple holding their wonderful wedding reception throughout the whole pub. And it’s those passionate amateurs swapping ideas about what else we could do to improve where we live.

  • To keep up to date with what’s on at The Golden Ball, like their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter
  • Although Pete Kilbane is a member of the Golden Ball Co-op this article is written in a personal capacity. He is also involved with York Social where many of the above ideas are discussed
  • Read more about pubs and beer here