Former bowls clubs, Conservative clubs, Post Offices, Co-operative shops, town halls, cinemas, and British Legion social clubs have all been turned into pubs.
Without doubt some of the most interesting pubs in London are part of the Antic London group that has rescued decaying vacant buildings on high streets with some architectural merit (not always beauty) and injected life back into them as pubs.
Take a look at Balham Bowls Club, Sylvan Post, the Effra Social, Earl Haig Hall and Catford Constitutional Club for instance.
Adding to their appeal is that they have often been in down-at-heal locations in the capital and their resurrection has given some community focus to these areas that has played a part in the – for want of a better word – ‘gentrification’ of the surrounding environs.
This sort of activity is costly to undertake and does not come without risk as any pioneering property purchase clearly has its downsides. To make this model work it starts with some pretty savvy operators – Max Alderman and Anthony Thomas. Not-withstanding some blips in the road their drive has enabled them to build up a business of approaching 40 pubs – with another six in the pipeline.
But there has been an additional ingredient in this operation and it has been the ability to buy the freeholds of these individual buildings. This gives them much more manoeuvrability in terms of being able to sit on the asset while the business (and the area) slowly grows. They are not constrained by having to take a short-term view as a result of being strangled by crippling rentals.
This freehold buying spree has been possible through the innovative funding vehicle created by investment firm Downing that has set up structures for Antic – as well as others like Oakman Inns and Pub People. Downing are behind 26 of the Antic pubs.
According to Downing’s pubs man Steven Kenee – the set up involves the pub companies investing a percentage into the purchase of the freehold and building costs of each unit and then taking the majority of the profits at the end of the arrangement. Since Downing is primarily investing on behalf of conservative investors its key objective is to put its chips on asset-backed opportunities and avoid losses.
It could be said it differs from a venture capital firm in the same way that many of its pubs differ from the standard boozer.