Community Spirit – Episode 10

ARTHUR Regis hurtled in and down on to the flagstones, lying spread-eagled as the crowd pushed through the door behind him.

Nate raced around the bar and held one arm as Frank Jarvis grabbed the other. They pulled him to his feet.

“Arthur!” Nate helped him on to a barstool. “Are you OK?”

Arthur straightened his tie and brushed off his jumper.

“That was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “You’ve fixed the door.”

Nate went behind the bar and began to serve drinks whilst Arthur introduced the group. As well as himself and Frank, there was Meredith, Frank’s wife, Pamela Cartwright, the tall woman who was head of the WI, Miss Charlotte Grace, and, finally, Major Bowes-Smyth (Retired).

“We’ve just been to the most wonderful Evensong, and the vicar said we should come across and support our community resources,” Pamela said.

“That’s kind of you,” Nate said to Frank.

“No need to thank me,” Frank told him. “I’m aware it’s use it or lose it as far as village amenities are concerned.”

Everyone murmured their agreement.

“That’s true,” Nate agreed, “but there are some success stories, even in rural communities. The Goose and Gander looks to be doing well.”

“It does do a roaring trade,” Meredith commented. “Especially at weekends.”

Pamela Cartwright snorted.

“Thing is,” Arthur explained, “they’re not very community minded.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Major Bowes-Smith added. “He practically banned us locals. Well, the local groups anyway, like the knitting circle and the book club.”

“And he got rid of a lot of local beers for that fancy imported stuff,” Arthur went on.

“The food is expensive,” Miss Grace put in, “especially if you’re on a pension.”

“It sounds like they had a strategy to bring in a very different crowd,” Nate mused. “In that respect, Much Mucklebury is very lucky. You have two pubs – one for the townies and one for the locals. I’ve seen it work well many times.”

“But we didn’t feel we could come here, either,” Meredith admitted.

“I know,” Nate said, “but I’m here to change all that.”

“It was the groups he banned, really. Most of them have settled at the community centre now,” Pamela said.

“Well,” Frank began, “it’s not definite, but I heard a rumour from someone at the council meeting last week that there was talk of closing the centre. Local government cuts.”

The group wailed at this news.

“Surely not,” Pamela said, visibly shocked. “We need to do something.”

“How long have we got until the brewery closes this place down?” the major asked Nate.

“Oh, I don’t think that’s on the cards just yet.”

“We’re not stupid – we know they don’t send people like you in if places are running well.” He drained his glass and handed it over to Nate for another.

“People like me?” Nate asked.

“Trouble-shooters. I bet you were told to sort it out or they’ll shut it down. Am I right?” The major could certainly hold an interrogation.

“It’s not as black and white as that, Major,” Nate said, “but there is a review period, yes.”

“How long?”

Nate looked at the earnest faces staring at him and saw something he rarely experienced.

Too often people didn’t care, communities disbanded, and local pubs were left to fade away.

Usually, he wouldn’t be too honest with the locals, but it felt different here. These people were different, and it wouldn’t hurt to have the vicar, his wife, the bowls team captain, the head of the WI, an ex-major and Miss Grace on board.

“Six weeks,” he said, deciding to trust them.

A chorus of “No!” went up.

“Right,” the major declared. “Let’s work on our plan of attack.”

Alison Cook