An historic pub where the famous poet John Clare used to drink and play the fiddle is on the verge of being sold.
But the decision by the John Clare Trust to offload the derelict Exeter Arms in Helpston has been met with dismay by the Friends of the Exeter Arms community group, which wants to purchase the property as a community asset.
The group’s aim was to re-open the building as a family-orientated pub which would also serve as a new village hall and a place for the young people of the village to meet.
Jay Gearing said: “We’re incredibly disappointed with the way the trust has treated this situation and the effect it has on the community.
“They purchased this historic building in order to protect and preserve it, but instead it is now a mismanaged wreck and a shell of the great building that John Clare would have loved.
“Returning it to the community would be the decent thing to do.”
The community group said it had not heard back from trust despite making repeated requests to discuss a community purchase. But this was categorically disputed by Barry Sheerman, the trust’s chairman, who said he had every sympathy with the group.
Mr Sheerman said his dream when the trust bought the pub was to open it as a centre for English folk singing, but that a difficulty in raising money had left the trust with no option but to sell the pub.
He added: “We can’t sell the pub for less than the best price, otherwise the Charity Commission would not be happy at all. If at this late stage anybody matched the offer we have we would sell it to them.
“I understand the person most likely to purchase it told us it was to be a private residence. Any profit we get from selling the Exeter Arms will be ploughed back into the charity.”