Victory in Finchley

More and more 38 Degrees members are setting up their own petitions on Campaigns by You. And more and more of those campaigns are winning! Last week, Alon Or-bach discovered what this felt like when Finchley council agreed to save his local pub, the Bohemia. Here’s the story of the campaign, in his words:

In August 2013, The Bohemia, a popular pub in North Finchley, was shut with no warning – just a piece of paper saying it was closed – days before a big event to celebrate its first birthday on our high street.

In its mere year of existence, The Bohemia attracted a massive following in the area, establishing itself as a real asset to our community, offering not just great drinks and food but also putting on great events and becoming a vibrant hub for groups to meet – from local campaigns through to the knitting club.

So when it was suddenly gone, we didn’t want to just accept it.

We launched a petition on  Campaigns by You, calling for The Bohemia to be registered as an Asset of Community Value, and began digging to find out why it had shut.

We quickly gathered hundreds of signatures, and made the front page of both our local papers!

And so, the #BringBackBohemia campaign was formed. We set out our aims: ensure that we retain the site as a local pub, and ideally one that serves the community like The Bohemia did in its year of existence.

With a lot of effort, we unpicked the tangled web of companies involved – the main leaseholder, their letting agents, the pub group they had let to that had gone into administration and the group that took on the lease who they had then kicked out.

As we were doing all this work, a group of squatters occupied the pub, but assured us they would not get in the way of our campaign to bring it back as a licensed pub. They ran it as a community centre, and showed some of the potential the site had.

Then came the great news – the council granted our application and The Bohemia was registered as an Asset of Community Value!

Encouraged, we decided to explore the possibility of establishing a co-operative to run the pub.

With the help of the Plunkett Foundation, we put together a survey, distributing it in the local area and running street stalls to get over 300 responses in a couple of weeks.

We learned a lot about what people wanted to see from the pub, and received great suggestions – like using the vast space in the back for a microbrewery – and many event ideas.

However, we realised that the work involved, especially raising funds without ownership of the building, would require a lot more time than we had.

Thankfully, we were tipped off that the London Brewing Company was interested in bidding for the site, and were excited to hear about their ideas to build on the community spirit that The Bohemia had developed.

For a while, the bidding process did not look promising, but last month (February 2014) they got in touch with the good news that they were in the final stages of securing the lease, and wanted to reach out to us once it was confirmed.

Our new publicans, Dan and Senan, have made clear their desire to get our input to help make The Bohemia even more ingrained in the community and said our campaign had shown them how much The Bohemia was valued as a space to meet as well as an attraction to our local area.

We are now using the valuable input we collected in our community survey, with great ideas on how to develop on what The Bohemia had to offer.

For the real ale drinkers, there’s already the exciting news that The London Brewing Company plan to have a mini-brewery on site!

Now that we have succeeded in our aim of bringing The Bohemia back, we are encouraging those who got involved to help make sure that it is a success – not only serving us good drinks but also by being a real asset for our community.

So keep in touch at BringBackBohemia@gmail.com, and do come along for a pint later this spring!

Alon Or-bach (on behalf of #BringBackBohemia)