Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative
When the town of Sea Lake was left with no local pub, the community took matters into their own hands, renovating a derelict building and opening the Royal Hotel as the Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative Limited.
Rural journalist Michael Cavanagh caught up with the co-op’s chair, John Clohesy and secretary, Alison McClelland.
In this podcast you will learn:
- why the Royal Hotel is such an important part of the Sea Lake community
- how their previous experience in running a hardware co-operative helped the community embrace the co-operative model again
- how running the Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative has united this small community, given the town a tourism boost and provided locals with a sense of self-agency
Melina [00:00:02] Shares in a pub in small country towns, the hotels are often family-owned or part of a group. However, in the Victorian town of Sea Lake 350 ks, northwest of Melbourne, the pub is owned by some of the 640 residents of the town in the heart of the state’s wheatbelt. Hello, I’m Melina Morrison; I’m CEO of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals or BBCM. The Royal Hotel in Sea Lake is owned by the town’s co-operative and BCCM’s Michael Cavanagh, as part of this podcast series, Meet the Co-op Farmers, managed to catch up with two of the driving forces behind the operation that’s John Clohesy and Alison McClelland.
Mike [00:00:50] Melina, being such a major cropping area, it’s not surprising that both John and Alison are farmers, but it hasn’t stopped them and others from getting the co-op up and running. Not only is the pub co-op owned, but the hardware store is a co-op as well. The buying of the pub has led to a buzz around the district, which as John explained, while like many small towns, the population is relatively old, the young are getting involved as well.
John [00:01:34] It’s a farming district. Few people, few farmers run, still run a few sheep and it’s mainly cropping. It’s all direct drilling and yes, everyone tries, all the farmers and we band together and just, yes, [00:02:09]we live it and [1.4s] farms and the people in Sea Lake, we all just gel together. So it’s a pretty good community, it’s an older community, but we’ve got a lot of young ones to stay back in here, which is good.
Mike [00:02:00] Alison, you’re a farmer as well and as John mentioned, a small community, something like under a thousand people, it must make for in developing the co-op, which we’ll talk about, was that easier because you could get that close community feel.
Alison [00:02:38] Yes, certainly, well, I think one of the great drivers of Sea Lake is having a young base of [00:02:54]succession [0.0s] farmers coming through. And the real need to make sure that there’s a town here for them so they can continue in the future. So but we have got a very strong community-minded town in Seal Lake.
Mike [00:03:09] You mentioned succession, so how involved has your family been in the area?
Alison [00:02:43] Very involved, I suppose, if there’s a community group or something to be involved in and like John, we’re involved [00:03:25]with the [0.1s] usual suspects [00:03:27]that I’ll call them in a town, [1.6s] in a small community that will always throw their hat in the ring.
Mike [00:02:56] Now it’s a small town under 1000 people in the district and you call the Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative Limited. So it makes it sound as though it’s a pub that’s the Co-op, John, is that actually the way the co-op operates?
John [00:03:12] The co-op operates, when we brought the hotel; we brought it as a company because we thought [00:03:59]we’d always do it. [0.7s] But then once we brought it, the phone started ringing. So when you got over 20 people in a company [00:04:08]like Pfizer, that deal, so [1.1s] we reverted. The building is owned by the company still and we converted it into a co-op because we had 40 odd members ringing up wanting to do so. We built a board of directors, six directors and the running of the pub; we don’t run the pub itself. We’ve got a manager and we would lease the kitchen out. So we have a meeting once a month and the manager gives us a report. And if there are any problems, they ring us up and we just deal with it as we go.
Mike [00:03:56] So you’ve got the Royal Hotel but it’s not just that part of the co-op, what other operations are there that has now become part of the co-operative in the area?
John [00:04:10] We have got another co-op, which is the hardware co-op, we equip the [00:05:03]sport, [0.0s] the hardware as well because it closed down in 2016 or 2015, so we couldn’t buy a washer in town. So that’s how we sort of started it in, say, like we called a meeting and we had 150 people there and we end up with 68 members in that co-op and we’ve opened the hardware store and we’ve got a manager in there as well so but that’s a different identity. So it was a different [00:05:27]beast you [0.1s] could buy in. And yes, and a lot of the older generation come into that and some real young fellows. So but yes that’s the community that’s the way it is, you know, we’ve got people coming into our communities and buying businesses and don’t know how to run them. And then they just close them down and walk away and we were left with nothing. So we’ve taken control, so to speak. The grocery store, the supermarkets have been a co-op not a co-op in itself, but it’s community owned as well and it’s been going on since the 60s and that runs pretty well, runs very, very well. So yes, there are a few groups and there’s a shared shop with a feel of the community and people. And so we sort of we’ve got our destiny in our hands basically that’s what we’re doing.
John [00:05:22] Alison, you can understand the hardware and if you go to other regional areas, there are dairy co-ops, meat processing co-ops and banking is quite a part of the old mutuals, but a pub, why a pub, ran about 2015?
Alison [00:05:40] Well, there were two pubs in town, one of them burnt down after salubrious circumstances and then there was one pub left and it’s a magnificent building that was cordoned off because of it was falling down in parts and it was terrible coming in to see [00:07:06]like it’s locals and [1.0s] looking at this building that was just falling down. So there was a mortgagees auction sign on the door, and John was one, he’s the ideas man that I called in that saw that and started getting a few people together. And basically, it was not to leave a building as terrific as what [00:07:32]the role of Italy’s MP, [0.9s] but to bring a bit of life back into the town and make sure that the kids have got some way to go. So they’re not going to these bigger places and experiencing some of the stuff that they could experience in the bigger towns.
Mike [00:06:43] What was the reaction of the community because, as I say, people could understand being pulled together to become a co-operative for hardware or rural supplies. But when you floated the idea of buying the pub, what was the general reaction?
John [00:06:58] There’s a couple of us that we sort of we broke into the place and we had a bit of a chat one day and so we broke in and climbed through the roof because they all said it was condemned. There was a bit of scepticism but the ones that were, a couple of my friends rang out and said, yes, we will go with it and do this. But there’s other people standing back and I’m just watching and anyway, I was quite surprised that the day we brought the pub that the phone didn’t stop ringing, like I thought myself, hmm, we’re in trouble here. We got to have a big show here. I thought it was, it ended up that way that was because with alcohol, some people have been a bit sceptical about it. They don’t want to go that way so that’s why we sort of built it as a family friendly pub and the restaurant separate from the bar and you can’t see that. And we actually had one lady in [00:09:12]tan [0.0s] who’s a good community person come up and put money in and their family sworn off alcohol. She said, if my husband could see me, he’d be rolling on his grave. She only did it for the community.
Mike [00:08:14] So, John, I’ve got to ask, you made the comment that you broke in to the pub. Now I would have thought that owners of hotels have to be of high quality citizenship in the town, and here you are making decisions based on breaking into a building.
John [00:08:32] Well, you never go in blindfolded, do you, you got to know what you’re in for the first thing? So anyway, the door was half kicked in anyway. So we just sort of broke in and all the rest was open. So we just climbed through it and had a good old look and yes, [00:10:02]you worked for them, didn’t we? [1.2s]
Mike [00:08:49] Alison, with the pub itself and the co-operative, how different is it to own a pub by the community as a co-operative than the hardware store or other facilities around the town?
Alison [00:09:04] I think the pub is a lot harder. There are a lot more regulations that go with running a pub. There are a lot more tourists and people coming in so there’s an expectation or an expectation, I suppose when you’ve got a pub, your services and your times opened and what people will expect when they come into a pub to a hardware store. So when you go into a hardware store, you go in and you know what you’re basically getting where coming into a pub is a different experience. It is an experience in itself. So it has been an eye opener. Definitely has been a great thing that has happened for the town.
Mike [00:9:51] The share structure of something like this where people can buy into it, let’s go to the hardware store. Is that more the traditional, you’ve got so many shareholders in the hardware store and they bought them. How did you actually set that up and run it so that you’ve got that co-operative sort of feel?
John [00:10:11] There’s a [00:11:42]firm [0.0s] over [00:11:42]its who called and [1.2s] they run a co-op, they run the co-ops, they do all of these. It’s fairly stringent, so they’ve got the licence to do that. So we did the buy-in figure on the hardware a minimum of $500. But the pub was a minimum of $5,000 so sort of two different. We need more money to do this than what we needed with the hardware store side and everyone who [00:12:06]know Mitt Romney led to put up each age or identities [3.3s] 10%, no more than 10%. So if you only, if you own 10% of it, you still only get one vote. If you own half a percent, you get one vote that’s all equal. So you can come to the meeting and have your say and you feel part of it. And yes, so that no one can take over and run the whole show.
Mike [00:11:01] And what’s done with a surplus. We have different cooperatives around the country. I know one co-op that’s ploughing money back into community such thing as scholarships for young people to go study with the idea of getting them back into the town. Others, it goes to the shareholders themselves. For the hardware store how does the surplus of that operate?
Alison [00:11:24] Well, so both of them are distributing co-ops. Both of them are distributing co-ops so that means that if there is a surplus, well, it goes back to dividend reinvestment or just dividends to shareholders. However, probably for the first five years, at least, it’s putting the money back into the business that’s what you hope to do unless you’ve got a tax problem. And yes that’s the way that we run it. You have other cooperatives in other towns that distribute.
Mike [00:11:55] Alison, with the shareholding, and as John explained, there’s one vote, no matter what you own. And are they now closed off or can people also trade their shares, whether it be in the pub or in the hardware store?
John [00:12:09] We’ve had a couple of people in the hardware store that had left the town so hardware store just brought their shades back. But no one’s ever wanted to get rid of them. You can sell them but it’s only worth the value of what you put in and the value of the shares will only go up only when we sell the business. So that’s the security of it, also, someone can come and put in with say, put 5,000 and expect 50+ in the next two years or three years. So it’s a long-term investment so if we someone comes in for a lot of money for the pub in 10 years time and we get a 75% that we got to have 75% of the congregation to say yes, we’ll sell it, we’ll sell it, but in our lives, it’s never to be sold. So we hope going forward that we improve in the business all the time and the community is going to get a dividend out of it and hopefully they can get their money back and they’ve got a vested interest. But we don’t really want the [00:15:10]business dissolved.[0.3s]
Mike [00:13:09] Michael Cavanagh and today I’m talking to John Clohesy who is the Chair of the Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative Limited, and there’s also a hardware involved in another co-operative in the town and [00:15:25]Alison McClelland, who [0.9s] is the Secretary. And this podcast is part of the Business Council of Co-operative and Mutuals, a series of podcasts looking at co-ops around the country. A pub that’s community owned effectively does it change how you operate, dealing with the breweries and other alcohol producers?
Alison [00:13:44] Not really, well, we come into it fairly green, but we were lucky that we had other publicans in the district that were really great with giving us advice. And I suppose we’ve just kind of run with that advice and [00:16:11]operate [0.0s] and manage it now with hospitality experience, so has got a firm grip on, you know, how the business should purchase stock.
Mike [00:14:11] And the breweries themselves, they just treat that as another liquor outlet. It’s not like they’re thinking, oh, goodness me, we’re dealing with a community. This is a bit different.
Alison [00:14:21] We’ve got a very respectful relationship with [00:16:42]CEB, [0.0s] and I can say that that’s been working very well from our perspective. And yes, [00:16:51]we’re new to it so we’re [0.0s] probably unsure of how well the things work.
Mike [00:14:38] John, you’ve talked about how the pub itself was in great disrepair and then the community got behind it. How did you get the community because obviously people would have had differing views on how the pub is going to have to look later on, how it’s going to operate, once the decision had been made, we’re going to buy the pub, we’re going to run it as a business, how did you then get all of the different views of the community and make sure that because it sounds like it’s got a terrific history in the town itself?
John [00:15:11] Yes, it has, we basically wanted to keep it the same, just improve it, make it a bit more modern in the rooms and improve the bar and all that, we’ve done all that. We used to have a meeting every Tuesday. The front doors of the bar will be open and it was just a mess, as you know, it was getting renovated. And if you wanted to come the meeting and have your say, whether you’re a shareholder or whether or not you can pop in, have a beer, check some ideas out there. Everyone listened. We were all there for the same reason. So we actually had we didn’t have an argument while were doing it. So it was pretty, it was pretty good, actually and then everyone was taking it on board and we’d pick the best scenes there of what we wanted. We had a couple of ladies. Alison was involved, did the colour coord and we said, you do the colours, do what you want to do. And no one disagreed with the colours because the walls were [00:18:30]clear [0.0s] anyway and the ceiling was baby yellow. So they did all the colours, and it’s come up really nice. We had bloke do a wall scene on the pub. We had a works order on the hotel when we brought it, a seven day’s work so we will do doing the back verandah around the [00:18:52]show. [0.0s] And I said, I’ve got this, do I need a permit to do this, yes, [00:18:54]we’re going to seven days, weeks or so. Can I get a permanent [2.9s] that’ll take two week and I thought myself, there’s going to be a battle here. So we’re working at the back and this bloke showed up, Reese Pine and he said, what are you doing? We said, we brought the pub. We’ve got to fix this. And he said, you looking for anyone? I said, yes, I said, yes, we are. What do you do? And he said, I’ve been the maintenance man at [00:19:17]the. I said how long have you been and [0.1s] he said five years, since then I have come back with mom and dad died. And I said, so what are you doing? Cabinet maker and mechanic by trade and I said, oh, how [00:19:29]much? Now I said, I employ, and [2.1s] we never knew he was in town. And now he’s a big part of it. And, you know, so that’s sort of a good story and we’ll sit in the bar one day and we’re debating about the bar and everything. And he sat there and he said, I’ll make you the best bar in Australia. And I said, well, the job is yours that’s done. And it is, we think it is. But anyway, so, you know, and that’s the type of people we dug up, you know, so and the employment of different people in in the community, it’s been great. There was a bit of a good story brought around together.
Mike [00:17:36] How do you find, given the fact that probably the person sitting in the bar, whether it be on a Saturday afternoon or on an evening during the week, how do you find the fact that they probably got a view on what is their business? Do you find people are a lot more forthcoming on how the pub should be run?
John [00:27:57] No, they don’t interfere. We have an annual general meeting every year and if they want to come in and ask a few questions, but I’m pretty trusting and I can see the business is getting on well. And we’ve got a manager there that’s really stepped up so everyone’s happy. But it’s just happy that it’s open too and you can see the locals that are involved bringing in their friends in and they’ll show them upstairs and get the key to the room and show them the rooms. And they’ve got a bit of pride instead of the cage around it, like Sea Lake is dying. Now it has thrived. It’s good for the community. It gives them a sense of pride. And as one bloke said to me, I don’t ever used to telling them where I was from because it was dying. And now I’m proud to be here from Sea Lake, it’s good.
Mike [00:18:45] Alison, the hardware is it run differently to the way that John was just talking about it? Probably in a way a little bit more community interest in the day-to-day and how the pub looks. They probably walk past the hardware and don’t think about it in the same vein.
Alison [00:19:02] Yes, probably, I think the hardware has just kind of run itself is people are, you know, still very proud that they’re a part of it. And just like the pub, they come in and I’m a shareholder and that’s a great thing, people to say that they’re involved in two businesses. But yes, the hardware is a lot different to what the pub is.
Mike [00:19:28] As I understand it, they are two separate co-ops, was that a business decision or you just felt that even a community-owned community-run with managers, why did you keep them as separate co-ops?
John [00:19:43] It’s very, very hard to raise money in a co-op to buy another business, so especially when you get the payment structure, so you better start afresh because you’ve already got the structures there, bit off starting afresh and going again because you got the duvets and chairs and everything like that. So it just gets a bit messy. So we decided to go the other way. And yes, and it’s and some of the people that are in the hardware store wouldn’t be able to afford to put another 5,000 [00:23:00]ingrained in [0.6s] and build the next one and they don’t want to do that either. [00:23:05]Like they some people that you know, [2.1s] we didn’t want to offend anyone or anything like that. So we just said, here it is, it’s open. If you want to come in there it is, put an ad in the paper and yes, well, away it went.
Mike [00:20:31] You mentioned that a couple of people left town and therefore sold their shares, is there a restriction on when it comes to having shares in either the hardware or in the pub? Is there a restriction on do they have to live in the area or they can be elsewhere and have an interest?
John [00:20:54] Now we’ve got an oncologist in Geelong that he was born here, his father is the stock agent and he’s put money in. He came down in and he heard it so coming out of walk through and put money in. We’ve got a bloke from Drysdale who delivers fuel and he’s put money in, so you don’t have to be a local, you don’t have to live here. Some did this for sentimental reasons; some did this to support the town. It was very surprising.
Mike [00:21:23] That, I suppose, made you proud to be members of the community. Do you find that with the co-op, the fact that you’ve got an oncologist who doesn’t live there but has obviously very strong family roots, is that also an aspect of people wanting to keep not just the pub, but the hardware? You want people to shop locally and not travel to the larger centres, which they say is probably only a 20-minute drive.
John [00:21:47] Yes, that’s right, and all the younger generation before we did this, we’ve got a lot of them and [00:24:49]now against one or four [0.9s] nightclubs and get on the pub there. And so after they played cricket or football, they wouldn’t come back to our community and they’d be elsewhere, and that’s when you start to lose them. And there are a lot of them in nightclubs and there’s a lot of different scenarios. It goes on. So we were exposing their kids to that scene and we thought, well, we could build something for them and for them to enjoy. Maybe they’ll stay. So we have that 21st and 18s [00:25:22]and 17s [0.1s] and then we had a wedding here and we’ve had cocktail parties. We’ve had a 40th, the 60th so they all just, yes, they all have it here now so that’s great. And it gives them, yes, because it’s a nice place to be. And yes, look the kids [00:25:39]get a wide smile [0.5s] every now and then, but not like what it was, you know, like you coming in on Saturday night after cricket and the joint is packed and they just stayed in, few beers and that’s good. So we’ve actually got a courtesy bus that we can run people around. And yes, so just try to bring the community together and it seems to be working.
Mike [00:22:58] John, you just mentioned how you’ve got the courtesy bus. You’ve had birthdays and after cricket, the place is jumping, is there also that sense that in running the pub that you do have to have the community in mind? It’s not just a moneymaking venture.
John [00:23:16] Yes, we’ve gone into the pub, our first scenario, it was our first meeting. We’re not here to make money. We’re here to have a business for the community. And if it makes a profit good and well and everyone else who put money in, don’t expect a return. We’re just lucky that it is making money because it’s yes; we’ve got some good directors. We’ve got some good community people. Everything is in place properly. But yes, no, it wasn’t about money. It was about community and about what we could do.
Mike [00:23:50] Alison, [00:26:54]Just as you’re seeing, you’re turning [2.2s] into potential shareholders and saying, oh, by the way, we want you to stump up the cash, but don’t expect a profit that also probably helped you get that community feel.
Alison [00:24:04] Yes, definitely but there’s not an expectation from people locally that they are going to get something and that they want to see their community forward and thrive, but not necessarily expect to return. So that’s a great attitude that most people around here have got. If you don’t do it yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to come in to do it for you so that’s the way the Sea Lake community rolls.
Mike [00:24:29] I’m Michael Cavanagh from the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, today talking to [00:27:45]John Crossy, [0.5s] who is a farmer and also the chair of the Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative Limited and the secretary of the Co-operative, Alison [00:27:53]McClelland, [0.0s] also a farmer. When they’re not running hardware stores and also pubs, Alison, you say that John is the ideas man. So you’ve got the pub running successfully. You’ve got the hardware. What other ideas are you kicking around with a small community that seems to be really for want of a better description, punching above its weight?
Alison [00:25:08] Yes, well, that’s a question that you’ll have to ask, John, because I’ve got no idea what runs through his head sometimes so he’s the one who thinks about all these things, comes up with grand plans and then sometimes, not all the time, will run it past me so what do you think about this? And it was the same situation with the pub when he had this idea; I’m not going to be a part of it because it’s just too big. I think you’ve just gone too big this time. And yes, it all kind of falls into place. I don’t know how he does it. But he manages to come up with a grand scheme and then everything falls into place. But he does have people behind him that balance him out of it.
Mike [00:26:00] John, what are the other ideas that you think that Sea Lake with co-ops, the pub and the hardware, it is a small community, are there any other things that you could possibly be looking at and based on what your experiences are so far?
John [00:26:19] There’s a corner shop up there, a great spot for bakery. Now because of COVID, it’s sort of, you know, sort of been on the back burner a bit and there’s also a project that I’ve been working on for a while, a butcher shop. So it’s so [00:29:53]these files, [0.5s] you’ve got paddock to plate so you can get a mobile butcher to bring you meat on your place and put the yellow, put the pink stamp on and they can sell them in butcher shop. So we’ve had a few farmers, a lot of feedlots out here, so we got cattle and pigs and sheep and that feedlot. So we just thought, well, why don’t we do that paddock to plate, you know, butcher shop. So, you know, it’s locally produced and that’s the best meat you can get. You have grass fed, all grain fed or but COVID sort of [00:30:27]slide in the dam [0.5s] because everything sort of stop, start, stop, start. So you know, these are the project, [00:30:34]they can do that. [1.0s] But also going back to what Alison said, you know, like she said, no, I’m not going to be involved and I said to her, you will, you know, you will, when it starts, you’ll jump in. Anyway, when we were at the pub she was in, so you never say never.
Mike [00:27:34] Bit of strong arming, do you find that people that would have automatically thought about the hardware as a co-op, this is in the community and as John told the story about one family would never have crossed the threshold of a pub in previous years, the community, are they still surprised that there is this avenue to own a pub as a co-op and John’s talk now about bakery and the butcher shop. Is there also this sense of community where they’re going, yes, let’s keep going and do other co-ops.
Alison [00:28:10] Yes, like John said with the COVID situation, it’s been very tricky because, yes, people’s mindsets have changed a lot. You know, you have some people that have lived in fear over the last couple of years that, you know, they’re all going to die and stuff like that. So it’s trying to get people’s heads back in the space that, yes, we are a community and we can go forward and create new businesses. But yes that might take a little bit of time. They’re happy with what we’ve got, definitely happy with what we’ve got. However, yes, it was a great unknown. The fear factor of COVID and, yes, just not knowing what’s going to happen going forward, but I’m not averse to the idea of bringing something else into the community for sure.
Mike [00:29:01] Is the pub ownership structured in such a way that it could go and invest, say, in a coffee shop or a bakery or a butcher or would that require, it’s got to be a separate entity, John. And it would then be once again, John, another co-op.
John [00:29:18] I think you have to be a separate identity because we’ve been doing renovations still in the pub, like last year we renovated another seven rooms and now we’ve got another wing and the planes are going full, we’re going to put rooms in there and with en suites. So we really want to reinvest in the pub and make it a better place and get more people coming through. [00:33:23]So you say like to [0.7s] the community and stuff like that. So on the weekend, we’re doing a bit of a work and putting in the disabled toilet in so because [00:33:33]with a bridge in nice and [1.0s] people with walkers and you got to walk up the stairs to go to pubs. We really need the money that we’re generating to put back into our business at the moment. If we did do it in the next 12 months or so, it would probably be a separate entity.
Mike [00:30:03] That’s an interesting point you raised there, you use the term about a working bee, the fact that you’ve got a business and even though you say, look, don’t expect a great windfall if you’re shareholders, you still want to make a quid and turn it over. But that’s an interesting aspect that you can actually get the community in. And to be frank, it’s unpaid labour, but it gives it a greater community feel, the feel of a co-operative.
John [00:30:29] Yes, well, I was interested when we actually brought the pub and it was just a mess. There’s rubbish everywhere, so we [00:34:27]put them to pay. We [0.9s] said [00:34:28]we’re going to have a work and [0.7s] B if you are a shareholder and not show up. I think 70 or 80 people showed up. We took out 28 truckloads of rubbish. And so we, yes, we put a barbecue on from being all finished at dinnertime. You know, like it was, it was amazing that the [00:34:42]man [0.0s] of interest that was in there in the place. And [00:34:47]now we just put, [0.5s] we have a worker bee that knocks some walls and they just show up. So it’s good, yes, that gives them a sense of pride and they want to know what’s going on and what’s the next project then so they can tell everyone else, I suppose.
Mike [00:31:10] Alison, the hardware, it must be interesting because these days, hardware is a major change. It’s very unusual whether it be a small country town or a suburb in one of the major cities Melbourne, Sydney, there are very few hardwares that are individually owned. With the hardware there, is it also still part of a wider buying group?
Alison [00:31:38] Yes, it is. We’re part of the banks, Metcash, so that’s our buying major buying group. However, we do have other companies that we [00:35:46]borrow off. [0.0s] It’s never going to compete with Bunnings and places like that. However, you know, it’s in town, so people have to travel out of town to save a couple of dollars that I think they’re saving, [00:36:00]preparing to start [1.0s] Bunnings, whereas it’s actually quite cost effective, just buying everything at Sea Lake, we’ve got everything there from timber, plaster, we can get [00:36:12]light goods, [0.4s] plumbing supplies, down to dog food, dog collars and stuff like that. So yes, we have a supply there to keep the whole community [00:36:28]happy [0.0s] and Sea Lake, who have been customers?
Mike [00:32:33] John, it’s called the Royal Hotel, I think if you go to a country town Australia, you can list the [00:36:40]inevitable [0.0s] names of pubs. There’ll be a railway. I’ve even been in a town where there’s a railway hotel and there’s no railway. The Vic, that’s another one, the Australian and the Royal. And you’ve been talking about and it’s a fine balance that you’ve obviously got. You want it for the community, but then you want people to be coming through and staying there and spending their money in a wider sense. The name The Royal, it’s got that old world feel about it. Is that what you’re finding when you’ve got the pub up and going that those people that are travelling previously would have gone just straight through Sea Lake are starting to look that stop over to enjoy what was kind of a yesteryear feel as well.
John [00:33:22] Yes, we are, The Royal always had a name it used to be called the Royal Garden Hotel. I can’t remember his first name, but his last name is Garden. I mean, he built it back in the 1900s. And once [00:37:43]tied, [0.0s] the Garden fell off the facade, so they changed it to The Royal. The Royal is still there. So yes, we do get people coming back in and stopping and staying and [00:37:57]having the [0.3s] locals. And yes, we’ve had an ex-local, who come in at the last minute and he put in money, he wanted to put in money and he comes up and stays and brings his friends. And yes, now you do see a lot and a lot of people coming through [00:38:10]Demon Stein [0.4s] and having a look around. And yes, and also the [00:38:15]man [0.0s] is doing such a good job with the rooms and all that sort of stuff. So, you know, we are on booking.com and [00:38:20]what if [0.3s] and all that so it’s out there and we are getting more and more traffic. So it’s really, really been surprising, really been surprising.
Mike [00:34:21] You’re talking about restoring certain rooms. It’s got a history. Is it a building that first of all, you’ve got to make sure it still stays in harmony with the rest of the town, but are there also in any of the work that you do when you, for example, kick the door and go and have a look in the first place, are you governed by heritage ruling as well for the town?
John [00:34:45] No, there was a heritage overlay on it, which only means colour on the outside and the heritage colour that was supposed to be in what it was, was totally two different things. So it really doesn’t come into it and we really don’t change [00:39:12]the rules. [0.1s] We just pull them up and make them look a lot better and fresher. And yes, because it’s all double brick and it’s all old plaster and so it’s all cracked and everything. And so we just do all that and we try and keep the high ceilings. People love the high ceilings. So, yes, we don’t try and change too much.
Mike [00:35:19] Alison, how important has it been for the town because you go through some towns and particularly I look at this, one of the things that struck me is a lot of the time that you’re building up the pub would have been during tough times during the drought. Given the history of small towns and withering and dying, at any stage, do you think, goodness me, what on earth are we doing?
Alison [00:35:43] Oh, sometimes when we were doing some of the renovation and it was such a massive job. However, it’s, you just get on with it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a drought or you are having a flood, it’s probably a sideline just to keep you occupied doing something different. But yes, I think the way that the whole pub’s been done and [00:40:26]everyone’s it’s important [0.6s] to how tasteful it is, it’s really good. It doesn’t matter; tourists and locals alike, they come in and it’s got a really good feel to the pub.
Mike [00:36:17] Are people aware when they come into the public that it is community owned, it’s a co-operative, or is there any sort of indication how it is slightly different to most pubs, whether they be owned in the city or in the country?
Alison [00:36:29] Most of our, on our website and on our advertisements in that we have [00:41:05]Pratley Community operate [0.5s] it. So yes, it is fairly well known and people who don’t know it, they come in and go, oh, wow, this is a lovely pub and probably the first thing we go in and we say, it was purchased by the community and it’s been re-done by the community and people are just so surprised. And yes, their expectations are just, wow, I can’t believe that a small town has done something like this. It’s great.
Mike [00:37:06] John, Allison, here you are, I’m talking you earlier in the morning and you’re at a cafe for breakfast, you talk about the bakery, you’ve got the hardware, the butcher, you reckon that it’s definitely helping the town to be able to offer up something not 24 hours a day but there is that feel in the town that there are all these things that can be done. It just needs to be, you know, to [00:42:05]be working together.[0.5s]
John [00:37:35] Yes, it can be done, it just takes time and effort, and if people want something they know that they can put their hand in their pocket and help out. And also, it creates jobs too. So we’ve got young families in our community this time because we’ve got jobs, the pub employs local people, so does the hardware, so yes and we brought a chef out of Melbourne then we released the kitchen to him. And he’s moved here and he’s got a business partner with him. And then we’ve had other people move into town because they’re working in the kitchen and same with the bar. We got a manager out of Melbourne, she lives in Sea Lake now and the hardware has got a wife and a couple of kids and another lady that’s got a baby. And yes, so it just creates a bit a sense of family and community and that’s what we’ve got to do to survive.
Mike [00:38:38] And then, Alison, you are just going to join John when he’s coming up with all these ideas. Do you sometimes roll your eyes and think, oh, where’s this one going?
Alison [00:38:46] Oh, constantly, constantly, yes, look, all credit to him, he’s got the most enthusiastic attitude when it comes to the community, and you can’t knock that, John is really big into the footy club as well. But his brain just doesn’t stop ticking and I’m probably at the level of when it comes to some of his ideas, but usually gets them through anyway.
Mike [00:39:13] Do you find that there are other communities coming to and talking to and say, look, we know the traditional co-operative, we’re now looking at possibly, yes, we might buy the pub or we might buy the cafe.
John [00:39:25] Yes, we’ve had [00:45:30]locking didn’t [0.4s] come over, and the community brought the pub, so they wanted instructions and they’ve done it. We’ve given them a heads up and how we went about it and now they’re seeing what communities do, they get the young ones involved that’s the secret. Don’t have the older people with, they’ve got, some of them got a lot of money, some are pretty comfortable, but get the young ones involved and make sure they put their hands in the pocket and make sure they have a say because that’s the future. We will be gone sooner or later and they will still be here. And that’s the secret of a community, getting used to put back into the community and make him start young and they realise what it’s like.
Mike [00:40:06] Do you find that in fact, there’s been a resurgence of co-operatives? Do you have to explain to the younger people how a co-operative works?
John [00:40:15] I haven’t, Alison might have, no, I haven’t. I think they basically know how it works.
Alison [00:40:23] Yes, it’s not a hard concept to come up with, so explaining it isn’t difficult at all.
Mike [00:40:30] Well, John, Allison, we really appreciate your time with the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals. It’s a town with a little bit of a difference when it comes to co-operatives. It’s got a tradition with hardware and then the pub and by the sounds of it, it’s not finished there.
John [00:40:48] No, with a bit of luck, we won’t be finished, but if we keep Alison in tow and [00:44:28]give it told [0.3s] what to do and then she puts a lot of hours behind the scenes doing, all the book work, so Alison does all the books by herself and doesn’t get paid for it. And so that’s, you know, that’s a pretty big effort. She enjoys that sort of stuff, I think. I don’t know but yes, and everyone just chips in and does their bit, and it’s good. So that’s what you’ve got to do, you know, in a small community, do your bit and make it a better place.
Alison [00:41:19] And what has been really good, too, is that we’ve given to support to other communities with their co-operatives and hopefully giving them a bit of an idea of what we do and that they could do the same thing too.
Melina [00:41:35] [00:41:35]Alison McLennan is [1.1s] one of the driving forces behind several co-operatives in the small Victorian town of Sea Lake, where the ideas are good for young and old.
Mike [00:41:46] A great way to go, Melina. Head to the hardware store to buy what’s needed for the job, [00:41:51]build up a first [0.5s] completing that project, and you could quench the thirst by heading to another co-operative that is the town’s Royal Hotel.
Melina [00:41:59] I hope you enjoyed this latest episode of Meet the Co-op Farmers. If you’d like to know anything about setting up or running a successful agricultural co-operative, you can find out everything you need to know at the co-op farming website that’s www.coopfarming.coop that’s right, coop for co-operative. Please share this with your mates, if you enjoyed this story, we really do want to get the great stories of farming co-operation out there. And remember, in a troubled world, with all of the challenges but also the opportunities we have, we really are better together. I’m Melina Morrison, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of Meet the Co-op Farmers.
- Read about the Sea Lake Hotel Co-operative Limited – the community co-op that revitalised a condemned pub
- Visit the Royal Hotel, Sea Lake website
- Find out more about co-op farming
- Subscribe to our monthly Co-operative Farming e-newsletter
- Contact the Meet the Co-op Farmers Podcast team
- If you or your community want to know more about setting up and running a co-op, contact the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals