Community rallies to save Isham’s last pub

The Lilacs has been bought by members of the community
The Lilacs has been bought by members of the community

Pints will be pulled at an Isham pub once more after villagers clubbed together to buy it.

The Lilacs in Church Street closed earlier this year after a failed planning application to build two houses in its large car park.

The Lilacs in Isham

The Lilacs in Isham

Having previously been listed as an asset of community value, almost 70 families pooled their resources to come up with the £400,000-plus needed to buy and refurbish it.

And after contracts were exchanged last month work is ongoing to return the pub to its former glory ahead of a potential re-opening in March.

John Davis, chairman of Friends of The Lilacs Inn, said: “It would have been very easy for it to fall apart and the support has been tremendous.

“Frankly it’s jaw-dropping but it demonstrates how solid the community really is.”

With the site vacant all summer it has become overgrown but residents have been working hard to clear the grounds ahead of the pub’s refurb.

Michele Mott, director of The Lilacs Isham Ltd, said: “Even people who aren’t in a position to help financially are quite keen to get involved with manual work or offers of other types of support, which has been really good.”

With The Lilacs, the Bear and Beignet and the village shop all closed, Isham has been without any amenities.

Those living there have been forced to travel to surrounding towns and villages such as Burton Latimer, Orlingbury and Pytchley for a social drink.

Michele said: “It’s been awful really, you see people in the street and you suddenly realise that you haven’t seen them and spoken to them for ages.

“That’s because there’s no central point for people to meet so if you want to meet people for a drink you’ve got to walk or drive to one of the surrounding villages.”

John added that clubs and societies which meet at the village hall used to go to the pub to socialise but they haven’t been able to do that.

He said: “It’s been a big downer on the village and the community starts to fall apart.”

But things are looking up.

It’s hoped that a village shop will open at the pub if they can get the right tenant and they have the opportunity to eventually bring a small micro-brewery to the site after a conversation with the owners of one who are looking to move to new premises.

They also hope to bring back events which used to take place there such as classic car shows.

Those behind the pub want to make it more child-friendly and bring the pub’s large car park back into use to provide a parking alternative to Isham’s narrow streets.

John said: “We’ve got some pretty good ideas of what we’d like to do to the interior of the pub to make it more welcoming.

“It’s not had any significant money spent on it for 15 years and it needs opening up a little bit.”

The pub will be run by a tenant rather than the group themselves but there will be no ‘big fish’ on the board.

A majority of the board members will be minority shareholders.

John said: “People are not looking for a significant return.

“What they want back is their village pub so that it can fulfil what’s been missing from the village.”

The Lilacs has been a pub in Isham for more than 100 years and 50 years ago had a reputation as a house of ill repute.

Over the years there has been debate over whether the Lilacs name derived from a lilac bush or lilac rabbit, with both represented on pub signs over the years.

The pub was originally owned by Marstons before it was acquired by Greene King in about 2002, having had just four landlords from the 1970s to 2014.

In 2014 it was bought by Hawthorn Leisure, which was then bought by New River Reit.

Between June 2014 and January 2018 it had four tenants and three short periods of closure.

In June this year the community’s offer to purchase the pub was accepted and on August 22 contracts were exchanged.

The group is on the lookout for a tenant to run the pub and shares for part-ownership of the pub are still available.

For more information, contact friendsofthelilacsinn@yahoo.com.