The Bell Inn celebrates fifth anniversary of being community owned
Updated: Nov 14, 2018
"We're five," announced landlord Stephen Henwood on the microphone, shortly before a swing band gave the Walcot Street pub a brilliant evening of toe-tapping music and dance in celebration of the pub's fifth year of being run by the local community.
It was hard to stay still for long as Jack Calloway and his Dance Band launched into the fast-paced tones of 1930s style swing. People got up and danced wherever there was space on the confetti strewn floors. An older gentleman surrounded by younger people jived to the music like a cat on hot bricks.
The Bell brings together a surprising range of people of different fashions, ages and nationalities. And it deserves its Bohemian reputation: everywhere you look there's something different and eye-catching to see. Covering the walls are posters advertising a variety of vibrant bands, record fairs, good causes and other pubs in the area to try out.
A little over five years ago, it looked like Walcot might lose The Bell when it was put up for sale. But that was before the community stepped in and raised enough money to take it on, with lots of people buying shares in the movement to run the pub as a cooperative. Today a statement on the pub's website says that it is owned by 536 of its customers, fans and workers.
And as if in accordance with that sentiment, a young man named Stan Elliot, who was serving behind the bar during the celebration, got his guitar and sang a brilliant song about how the community came together and saved The Bell Inn.
The style of the pub as a lively music venue hasn't changed with the community takeover. Landlord Stephen Henwood said: "It was doing good before, but now it's even better." Community-ownership does give local people more sway to run the pub the way they want. The Bell is accredited by the Living Wage Foundation, paying its workers a real living wage based on the cost of living.
Surely the success of The Bell springs not just from the music, but from the way that the surrounding community have chosen it to be their place for coming together. As such, the pub serves as a valuable source of social cohesion in the city centre.