Dream with us here. Imagine a space that hosts gigs and stocks local beers, but that also puts on yoga classes, skills training workshops, dance lessons for pensioners and events for under-18s. A space that isn’t owned by greedy landlords but by the community.
It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Lenny Watson, Verity Hobbs and Sophie Farrell, a group that goes by Sister Midnight, are crowdfunding to buy the Ravensbourne Arms, a huge pub on Lewisham High Street that’s been shut since 2016, and turn it into a not-for-profit venue that does all of the above. ‘We want to create a cultural space with local music and local people at its heart,’ says Watson.
Sister Midnight was a record shop and music venue based in Deptford where the gigs were plenty and pints were £2.50. Watson founded it after spending years volunteering at a local record store that was due to turn into a cheese-and-wine bar. ‘I just thought, sod that,’ she says. So she scraped together the money for the rights to the lease, and Sister Midnight called the venue its home for two years.
Unfortunately, it shut during the pandemic. But they were determined to find another place to carry on its legacy. The Ravensbourne Arms was on their radar, so they put out a community consultation. ‘We had £90,000 in provisional pledges,’ says Farrell.
Sister Midnight turned into a community benefit society issuing community shares to fund the purchase of the pub. Community shares allow contributors a say in how the business is run. The initial fundraiser for £500,000 will allow them to put down a deposit on a commercial mortgage. ‘There’s so much creativity in Lewisham,’ says Watson. ‘I think it’s important that we have a space that’s not going to be taken away by redevelopers. It’s a chance to cement community spirit.’
Support the crowdfunder.
Lewisham, according to an (almost) lifelong local.