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ANCHOR’S AWAY? (Notes from Knaphill 7)

Anchor's Away - Copy

You know that you are in the centre of Knaphill Village when you arrive at the mustard coloured pub by the traffic lights on the corner of Lower Guildford Road and the High Street. Built in the 1700s as a hotel, The Anchor was one of the first buildings to be built when Knaphill grew rapidly due to the development of Brookwood Hospital. It was converted to a pub in the 1930s. According to local historians the land around where the pub stands today was possibly the site of the Knaphill annual fair, which was held every November for a period of around 200 years until the 1870s. As the only ‘hotel’ in the village it would probably also have been popular with commercial travellers selling their wares to the local shops, as well as general visitors to the area. As such, therefore The Anchor has a very important place in the history and heritage of Knaphill Village.

The future of The Anchor remains in doubt however if developers’ plans to turn the site into a mixture of residential and retail units are given the ‘go ahead’ by Woking Borough Council. Original proposals were thought to include 10 residential units with ground floor retail outlets to include ‘some sort of food and beverage outlet’ such as ‘a wine or tapas bar’ or even ‘a Costa Coffee’ shop? Despite considerable local opposition to such a development Woking Borough Council appeared to be giving the proposals serious consideration until CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) succeeded in having The Anchor made ‘an Asset of Community Value’ in August 2016. In effect this meant that The Anchor could not be developed for at least five years. This ruling was successfully challenged (on a technicality) by the developers towards the end of 2016 which in turn led to a real fear that the pub would not simply be re-designed but demolished and replaced with a mix of residential and retail outlets, plus parking and social housing.

At the beginning of 2017, however, CAMRA (having ‘ironed out’ the ‘technicality’) re-applied for The Anchor to be made ‘an Asset of Community Value’ and it appears that this application will be successful. So where does this leave the future of The Anchor? Most Knaphill residents agree that for it to continue to function as a pub (in its present format) is simply not viable, given that there are several other more successful pubs in Knaphill. What is for sure is that the brewery themselves appear to see no future for The Anchor as a pub. It would seem (given the probable award of a fresh ACV status) that the developers have shelved their plans. But even as a pub selling different brands of ‘real ale’ it is doubtful that The Anchor has a long-term future as a pub. The ‘worst case scenario’ could be that the building will eventually simply be boarded up and left to stand empty and allowed to decay and eventually be demolished. It would not be the first building in the area to suffer such a fate. But is Knaphill’s oldest pub doomed … or has it got an exciting new future?

It is an ‘open secret’ that Knaphill Baptist Church are behind a plan to purchase The Anchor and develop it into a Community Hub along similar lines to the very successful Lighthouse Project (www.lighthousewoking.org), run by Woking Vineyard Church, in the centre of Woking. Based in a renovated, formerly derelict shop, in the High Street near the railway station, the Lighthouse Project houses a variety of community initiatives staffed by a collective of volunteers seeking to transform the community around them including a foodbank, a social enterprise cafe, a job club, addiction recovery support, good quality second-hand children’s clothing and equipment, debt advice, cooking training, creative workshops, support for out-of-work women (including interview training, coaching and job-searching), youth work, live music, bread making, spiritual support, community meals, and much more. Most important of all The Lighthouse provides a place of authentic welcome – where people experience dignity, acceptance, restoration, and hope.

The vision Knaphill Baptist Church has would be to possibly purchase The Anchor outright, but are also open to working in partnership with others – Woking Borough Council, the brewery, other local church groups, or any other interested parties. We see such a use for the pub – to be renamed The Anchor Centre – as the best option for a renewed use of the building. It would both enable an important historic building to be retained and is an ideal way to stimulate the regeneration of Knaphill Village. The scheme would echo The Lighthouse’s aim of ‘transforming lives through kindness, belief and hope’ in many ways, but would differ according to perceived community needs. What is envisaged are alternative initiatives that would both fill current gaps but also help create a market and stimulate business activity in ways that would attract people to shop in Knaphill. As such, The Anchor Centre would complement, rather than oppose or undermine, the role of the existing Vyne Community Centre.

Ideas that have been suggested (in addition to those mentioned above) include: a Wellbeing Centre, a Paleo (Gluten Free) Café, a Happy Café (providing ‘social space’ for the clients of the nearby mental health care hospitals), an ethical Fairtrade clothing outlet, children and family centre, and short-term social housing accommodation. A revamped Anchor Centre could also be used to house music events, story-telling, a meeting venue, and a weekly ‘farmers’ market’, etc. Ideally the Church would like to work with the local community – other local churches, faith groups, community groups, local businesses, charities, etc – in seeing this project come to fruition, possibly expanding to incorporate some of the vacant shops nearby. The idea would be (wherever possible) to partner with existing shops, rather than replace them, and encourage new business ventures in Knaphill Village. Thus far, there has been enthusiastic support from the Knaphill Residents’ Association and our Local Councillors, and it is hoped that a meeting with the Chief Executive of the Woking Borough Council to discuss the possibilities will take place soon.

When Julia and I came to Knaphill 18 months ago we began, as a church, to ask ourselves two questions: ‘What kind of God?’ and ‘So what?’ What kind of God do we believe in, and how does this affect the way we live and behave? This gradually transmogrified during the year into another couple of questions: ‘What kind of church?’ and ‘So what?’ Our growing conviction, as a church, is that God we worship is primarily a God of love, who has a heart for the people of Knaphill and who wants to bless our community and renew it holistically, and that the ‘Gospel’ we proclaim is ‘good news that brings great joy for all people’ (Luke 2:10). Consequently, we need to change the way we ‘do church’ and be ‘salt and light’ (Matthew 5:13-16), and particularly ‘yeast’ (Matthew 13:33) making a real difference in our community by enabling it to ‘rise’ just as the addition of yeast to flour causes dough to rise.

We believe that God wants to ‘regenerate’ Knaphill Village, physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually, and that we need to be at the heart of this. The word ‘regenerate’ is an interesting word which literally means ‘to bring new life to that which is either dead or dying’. We see the establishing of a ‘Community Hub’, along the lines of that described above, right at the heart of our village, as being a significant first step in this direction. Our hope is that such a venture will receive the support of business people, politicians, residents … in fact, anyone who has a heart for Knaphill.

Surely anything is better than Knaphill Village being slowly but surely eroded – local shops disappearing and replaced by blocks of flats – and the former Anchor Pub becoming simply just another set of traffic lights on the way into Woking?

Jim Binney

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