Communities across England are being urged to consider owning, leasing and running pubs which are under the threat of closure after the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown – and a support programme is being relaunched to help.

The More Than a Pub programme is designed to support communities to save their local pubs by taking them into community control. The programme is being relaunched by national charity the Plunkett Foundation, which says it could not have come at a more critical time as pubs face the challenge of attracting customers back after months of limited activity or closure.

The programme provides funding and support to urban and rural community groups who need help to develop their ideas and plans, which includes business development advice and a combined finance package of up to £100,000 made up of loans and grants. It is funded by Power to Change, the independent trust that supports community businesses in England, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG).

There are now 116 community owned and run pubs trading across the UK and 105 in England, with over half of them continuing to operate in some way despite the forced closure of cafes, pubs and restaurants – with the exception of takeaway services – from March to July. The charity says that many have been laying on extra services specifically designed to help people in their locality receive the supplies they needed during the lockdown.

James Alcock, Plunkett’s chief executive, said: “This is an absolutely critical moment for both rural and urban pubs, the lockdown forced many across the country to keep their doors closed for months. People are now fearful that their local pubs may never reopen, and community ownership can be the answer to that. We have seen so many successful stories of closed pubs being brought back to life under community ownership.

“So anybody who needs help, guidance and support to save their local pub should get in touch with Plunkett and the More Than a Pub programme today. The closure of your beloved local doesn’t have to be inevitable – this is your chance to save it.”

There are now more than £10 million in shares held by community pub members across England supported by More Than a Pub. The programme was paused during the Covid-19 lockdown in order to provide urgent help for trading pubs to adjust their activities. During this period More Than a Pub provided grants to around half the community pubs in England.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “This pandemic has taught us the importance of community and that our local pubs are more valued in bringing us together than ever before.

“In what is such a difficult time for local pubs, the More Than a Pub programme provides vital funding and support for communities looking to take ownership of a pub that may otherwise be at risk of closing for good.”

Sales at pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK plunged by £30bn during lockdown, according to the UKHospitality Tracker, collated by CGA and are now being hit by new restrictions in bids to tackle a second Covid wave. The risk of closures has resulted in a number of interested community groups already getting in touch with Plunkett to help them save their local pubs. One such group is fighting to save one of Hull’s most popular music venues The Polar Bear where a crowd funding campaign has already started to raise funds to keep it alive after the 200capacity venue closed during lockdown. And in rural Oxfordshire residents have kicked off a plan to save their much loved village pub The White Horse, Stonesfield, which closed at the beginning of national lockdown in March and didn’t reopen when restrictions were eased.

Plunkett helps rural communities tackle challenges such as social isolation, employment and poverty by supporting enterprises – including pubs, shops, bakeries, farms and woodlands – that are owned and run democratically by members of the community.

Tom Barton, Programme Manager at Power to Change, added: “Covid-19 has left many communities with more challenges than they have faced for a generation. Community pubs have often become the focal point around which people have regrouped and worked out how to support each other. This ‘more than’ feature of community business and ownership is one that new groups can once again explore and develop, now that the programme has been relaunched.”

During lockdown two thirds of community pubs surveyed in England carried on trading, according to Plunkett figures. Community pubs diversified offering a variety of services such as shops, home deliveries, takeaways and even wellbeing support lines.