Seconds Away…..Round Two

The recent news that the Star & Garter is for sale came as a surprise to me. So I sought out Ross Wilkie – who was instrumental with his business partner David Kennedy in the pub’s rapid & brilliantly executed regeneration – and asked him about it.

Having got to know Ross a little in the years following the restoration he explained that he’s firstly looking to have a rest from his exertions as landlord, and secondly to redeploy his development skills and capital investment in other local projects, while letting new owners take this lovely historic hostelry to the next level.

Now, while I cannot speak for Ross and David, I believe that were the Star & Garter to pass into Linlithgow community ownership in a way that ensures they receive as good (or better) return on their investment as a conventionally funded sale, then they would be well pleased.

So I propose to bring the Star & Garter Trust out of a three year hibernation, and explore the feasibility of a community buy out….with all options on the table.

Watch this space.


Progress Report

After a couple of weeks travelling I return to Linlithgow to find that my colleagues have not been idle.

On 26th June we selected – from four outstanding candidate practices – the local heritage architect Thom Pollock of the Pollock Hammond Partnership to carry out a rapid Options Appraisal and assist us in our application for acquisition funding.

Then on 27th June to show what is possible Anne McChlery gave a presentation at the Burgh Halls covering the restoration of Castlemilk stables in Glasgow.

Several excellent additions have been made to the team, and we are going great guns.

Inn the Belly of the Beast

Today was hard hat day, as thanks to John Bartlett – the former proprietor – and the liquidator, we were able to let four firms of architects have a look around the site prior to pitching for the options appraisal work we need in order to convince the Architectural Heritage Fund to chip in a loan to help secure the pub.

It’s possible to get up the stairs onto the first floor above which there is a gaping void. But it’s a lot bigger in there than it looks from outside. The old pub reeks of smoke and history.

It will be interesting to see what the architects come up with…….

The Gothenburg Principles

This magnificent building in Armadale is a public house known as the ‘Goth’.

The Goth - Armadale

‘Goth’ is short for ‘Gothenburg’, and is a reminder of a long forgotten tradition of Scottish public houses which were owned by what we would these days call a ‘Social Enterprise’, in this case the Armadale Public House Society Limited.

Over in Prestonpans there is another ‘Goth’, in this case the Prestoungrange Gothenburg which not only incorporates a micro-brewery but is also run on the ‘Gothenburg Principles’ as follows.

Built in 1908, The Prestoungrange Gothenburg is under the management of the East of Scotland Public House Company Limited which trades wholly within the original Gothenburg Principles its founders established. After a 5% pa cumulative return on the capital employed in the enterprise, all further surpluses are Gift Aid granted to the Prestoungrange Arts Festival ¨C which is a charity devoting all its resources to using the arts to stimulate and encourage the economy of Prestonpans and its vicinity.

These anachronisms give an insight into the potential for the Star & Garter to bring ownership for community benefit into the 21st Century and to make a surplus to be ploughed back into the Linlithgow community.

As has been said, one can’t solve 21st century problems with 19th and 20th century solutions, in this case the hoary old Victorian vintage limited liability ‘Trust’ companies. I find it fascinating – which is pretty sad, I know – that there may well be legal and financial solutions which date back even before the 17th century and which may be dusted off and given a new lease of life.

Funding Meeting Number One

David Tait, Ron Smith, Anne Daly (who has the photos to prove it) and I had an excellent site meeting last night with Gareth Cheeseman of the Architectural Heritage Fund

Gareth appeared very receptive to an application for funding. No guarantees of course, but we appear to tick all the right boxes in terms of heritage; community involvement and so on.

But there was good news and bad news re funding availability and time-scales..

The bad news is that their next Council meeting – which considers applications for grants and loans – is not until September, with an application deadline of 22nd August. This means that a ‘seed finance’ grant to help put together a detailed proposal is out of the question in view of the urgency.

The good news is that while there is competition for grant financing to secure the site, the Fund is eager to provide bridge loans (because loans bring in income for them)  to finance site acquisition while the development goes ahead.  They will lend up to 75% of the valuation of the restored building (which will depend upon proposed use and revenue streams) and up to £500,000.

They expect such loans repaid within 3 years, but would probably not be too impatient if there were unavoidable delays beyond that, and they charge 7% pa simple interest (ie no interest on interest) which would be payable upon completion.

So the next step is to pull together the necessary amount – probably a maximum of £15,000 depending on the work that has already been done and the information and reports that may be available.
In parallel with that it’s a question of rapidly pulling together the 25% of the purchase price which the Heritage Fund would not be able to fund, and that will require an issue of ‘Star Stock’ – our secret sauce, of which more anon. We’ve already made a start on that with an initial pledge of £20,000

A Community owned Star & Garter ‘BrewPub’?

The ideas come in thick and fast.

This one from Anne Grethe Eckmann, of the Nordic Enterprise Trust, who has seen some excellent micro-breweries integrated with pubs so that the clientele can see the brewing going on while they partake of the hospitality.

Add to that training of young brewers; an outlet for local barley; and of course barrels of Star Heavy rolled down the High Street to the local hostelries…….

I like the idea, but I’ve no idea about the logistics of the site.

The Moulin Inn near Pitlochry is an interesting example.

Moulin has always resisted the lure of jukeboxes and pool tables, interestingly they were installed in the 80’s and early 1990’s, but this led to the demise of the Pub, and only their removal and a general refurbishment saw the customers return again.

The past 15 years have seem many changes, most noteworthy the setting up of the adjacent Moulin Brewery, the provision of Ales from our very own Brewhouse added a unique ingredient that quickly saw a steady stream of new visitors to the Inn. 


So I linked to my first blog post on a couple of Facebook groups and also tweeted the link.

We now have a gifted amateur beer guru interested enough to say that this is the sort of community project she’s been looking for and even potentially willing to relocate to Linlithgow to help with it. More to the point, in principle, she’ll chuck £20k into ‘Star Stock’ – of which more anon. So that’s our first pledge of funding.

Then there’s a very talented entrepreneur behind a Swedish Eco Village who would love to facilitate a community funding workshop in Linlithgow if his flights from Stockholm are covered.

And that’s just the first morning………..

A Star is Born

So that’s it, then. The Star & Garter Trust has been formed, hopefully auspiciously in another Linlithgow pub – the ‘Four Marys’.

David Tait is the founding Chair; Ron Smith of Burgh Beautiful is the founding Treasurer and  Muggins here – Chris Cook – is the founding Secretary.

We’ve adopted a simple but radical ‘lightweight’ constitution as an unincorporated association, just to get things moving. Hopefully it won’t be long before we need to use a more formal legal vehicle, but for the time being, it’s about ‘what works’.

Anyone can join. All you have to do is to share our aim of acquiring the Star & Garter from the liquidator and transforming it into a Linlithgow Community Hub.

We need all the help we can get. If you’re up for it let us know.