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Village SOS: I'm Honeystreet's Village Champion

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Sandra Bhatia Sandra Bhatia | 12:02 UK time, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

What was it that attracted me to the Barge Inn community project in Honeystreet? Along with the parallels that could be drawn between a pub and my music and events background, it was the people.

We had that immediate all-important chemistry, which I really needed because, in the beginning, the adjustment to the countryside was tough.

Even though the group were more than welcoming, I was still a good distance away from my family and friends, meeting new people in a new place, facing a new challenge, and working at a new pace.

I don't think I realised what a 24/7 commitment this was going to be. At its peak I was climbing the walls and, I have to confess, a couple of times I did contemplate doing a moonlight flit.

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Honeystreet residents explain why they want to refurbish the Barge Inn

I was the Barge Inn's Village Champion - chosen by the village to add expertise that they didn't have themselves.

Apart from the PR, marketing and promotion, which I do for a living, it was my role to help the group think outside of the box and really expand on their own ideas - along with a sprinkling of a little bit of magic to make that all important impact.

In the main, I became the negotiator and mediator between the community and the project, rebuilding age-old broken bridges, which was painstaking at times - not to mention the purpose of Village SOS, the role of the media, and The Big Lottery Fund.

It gave me emotional biceps and taught me a lot about the diversity of people and how they tick - probably the toughest but most rewarding part of my job.

But it was all worth it. In 12 months this pub has certainly become the hub - again - for the locals.

It is also the vehicle for all of the other components that will drive the community project, along with generating much needed employment - full-time, part-time and casual, voluntary and work experience.

But, as you'll see in the programme, it wasn't all plain sailing. One of the most horrific moments, when I genuinely thought the entire project was going to implode, was during the Honeyfest episode.

We needed something very big, very fast and very effective - the music festival - to turn things a full 180 degrees and amplify the message that this pub was now a great place to go for everyone.

But the fierce opposition from the locals led to a hearing with Wiltshire Council for the events licence, and we weren't certain we would get it. That would have just been awful.

A volunteer polishes the Barge Inn sign

A volunteer polishes the Barge Inn sign

My most special memory is that day of the Honeyfest launch event because it was the culmination of phase one of the project.

The buzz and the energy was incredible, with the committee, builders, pub staff, event production crew, volunteers, market traders, BBC team, and National Lottery staff all running around to get everything completed in time, all with the same objective - to make the day work.

During the festival, I looked around me and it was a magical feeling that will stay with me forever.

This experience has certainly changed how I would approach living in a rural community.

For a start, I had no idea what a parish council was until I arrived here.

Also, I learned that cups of tea and 10 minutes of effort go a long, long way in these places.

I left Honeystreet last weekend to go back to the city but I leave a thriving Barge Inn. The kitchen is constantly busy, the campsite's full, with the takings right up.

It has been an absolute honour and privilege to work with such an inspirational bunch of people who, if it hadn't been for Village SOS, I would probably never have crossed paths with.

In addition, I also have to thank the Lottery - an invaluable support network, there every step of the way - and the BBC for their understanding and patience from day one.

There are also a number of unsung heroes who do not have too much of a presence within the programme, but they are the cogs who drive the ship - they know who they are.

And I leave a surrogate family, not just a team.

Sandra Bhatia is the Village Champion for Honeystreet in Village SOS.

Village SOS continues on BBC One at 8pm Wednesdays.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Please could you clarify how does the community of Honeystreet own The Barge Inn? What legal form have they used?
    And what have they bought? Have they bought the freehold or a long lease?

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Dear Deputy Dave

    Like most community activites, it started really small! Two local ladies became concerned about the future of The Barge Inn, and feared that it might either close or become a canalside gastro pub - and they didn't want that to happen. They called a public meeting in the village - and suddenly the core group of two became seven. They/ we called ourselves all sorts of strange names, but eventually became known as The Barge Inn Community Group (BICP), and adopted a constitution. This was necessary in order to approach potential funders to get the money to try and buy the lease (which had been up for sale for a couple of years).

    The funder that came up trumps was the BIG Lottery Village SOS - with enough money on offer to purchase a 20 year lease and refurbish the pub. At this stage, we had to get 'legal' and formed The Barge Inn Community Project Limited, a Company Limited by Guaruntee. It is this organisation that has both signed the 20 year lease, and received the capital development grant from the BIG Lottery.

    The synopsis above covers a period of about 2 years - during the maturation process the BICP held two further public meetings, produced a Newsletter, and carried out various market research activites in the local villages.

    I hope this answers your interesting question.

  • Comment number 4.

    the program has highlighted the demise of the Great British Pub, you can help to save your local
    The Publican's Morning Advertiser is calling for the Government to reduce VAT to 5% for the hospitality sector. 21 countries in the EU have a lower VAT rate for the hotel sector and 13 for the overall hospitality sector. In France, tax was reduced from 19.65% to 5% and led to the creation of 21,700 jobs in the first year. A cut in VAT could help create 320,000 jobs in the post Olympic years and help save pubs, restaurants and hotels.
    do your bit and sign the petition

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello to everyone that can be bothered to read this,
    I know the Barge At Honey Street and have drank and eaten wonderful fare
    at The Barge for many a year.

    Enjoy your retirement Adrian and June.
    The Newly found chef seems a wonderful addition to an already wonderful PUB.
    Why is there/their NO mention to the crop circling centre of the universe - one.
    Why is there NO mention to the fantastic live music that used to appear at The Barge for year's.
    If I was given £400,000/£500,000 to play with and then ask a bunch of musicians to play for FREE - YES I think I could make some money.

    If HONEYFEST was sold out. Who got that profit.

    I will be visiting this pub soon and I hope to see FANTASTIC RESULTS but it may be on a tuesday.

    You made it seem like the old Tennants had 'done a runner'.
    Let me tell you that if you leave ANY commercial kitchen for even a week - things grow.
    From what I saw you would think that the previous owners didn't give a damn.

    I think that's unfair - make it right - it's only fair.
    Make it obvious who left it IN A MESS.

    Yours faithfully

    Ian Softley

  • Comment number 6.

    Well done all! and well done Sandra! The demise of the Village and the Great British Pub is indeed a tragedy. It is great to see the BBC and The Big Lottery Fund taking an interest.

    I was moved by you efforts and suggest you take a look/listen and this emotive 4 minute clip which beautifully sums up the key challenges facing village pubs such as The Barge Inn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRYWPfER5qo
    It would make a great sound track/backing music for your show and may be of use to you and/or the BBC in future projects/festivals etc.

    I wish you all the best and look forward to the next epsiode.

    Your faithfully,


  • Comment number 7.

    Well done all. Regular visitors whenever we can - we have thoroughly enjoyed the very special ambience of a very special place. It's great that you have managed to save the Barge. Hopefully we will be back soon.

  • Comment number 8.

    Dear Ian / Mr Softley,

    To answer you question, no profit was made from the event.

    Ticket sales covered the production costs.


  • Comment number 9.

    Dear Sandra

    You may not remember me but we met a year ago and talked about sustainable projects. I just wanted to say I really enjoyed the program last night, well done to everyone involved and you did an amazing job Sandra, not just the organisation but also the support you clearly offered.

    Carrying out diverse rural regeneration with a strong focus on community needs is difficult when you’re also trying to please everyone involved and you’re never going to be able to show every aspect of the project in a TV program with limited time, but it was clear to see a very committed group of people willing to ‘get stuck in’. I look forward to the next program.

    Very best wishes to everyone and good luck with your next project Sandra, as I am sure there will be one.

    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Amanda,

    Very many thanks for your kind comments.

    The group indeed achieved a huge amount in a very small amount of time!

    But they were able to do it because the pub wasn't just at the heart of their community it was IN the hearts of the community ... which made them go that extra mile.

    I hope very much that other people will be inspired by the story and look to do something similar themselves - as Village SOS is such a fantastic initiative ... and couldn't have come any quicker in these times!

    As for my next project...
    ...If it is as half as special as this one...I will consider myself to be a very lucky gal!

    Thanks again,

  • Comment number 11.

    Dear Frankly Concerned,

    Love the clip!
    ...it also raises some very good points and arguments (with a great melody :)

    I shall definitely post where possible.

    Very many thanks for your good wishes too.

    All the Best,


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