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Pub where boxer Sir Henry Cooper trained and lived to undergo £4m restoration

Published 20/10/2016

The Fellowship Inn was at the centre of the Bellingham
The Fellowship Inn was at the centre of the Bellingham "homes for heroes" estate built for returning First World War veterans and their families (Phoenix Community Housing/Heritage Lottery Fund/PA)

A semi-derelict pub where boxer Sir Henry Cooper trained and lived before his 1963 fight with Muhammad Ali is to be transformed with a £4 million grant.

Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund's Heritage Enterprise scheme will restore the Fellowship Inn in south London and make it commercially sustainable, with a cinema, new live music venue, cafe, microbrewery, bakery and artists' studios.

Built in the 1920s for returning First World War veterans and their families, the pub was at the centre of the Bellingham "homes for heroes" estate, in Lewisham, which was constructed to ease inner city crowding.

The Fellowship Inn originally had two bars, a 200-seat dance and music hall, a vast function room which often hosted wedding receptions, an off-licence bottle shop and family accommodation.

Heavyweight boxer Sir Henry Cooper was a local boy who grew up in Farmstead Road on the Bellingham estate.

Ahead of the first of his two fights against Muhammad Ali, then still known as Cassius Clay, at Wembley Stadium in 1963, he moved into the pub to focus solely on his training.

An account from the time in Sports Illustrated described how he spent weeks living at the Fellowship, taking his meals there and training in the back room when there was no wedding reception or tea party going on.

In the 1960s and 1970s the Fellowship Inn hosted music acts including Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton but since the 1980s has fallen into disrepair, in a decline which mirrored that of the estate around it.

Social landlord Phoenix Community Housing has secured funding to revitalise the Grade II listed pub, whose two-storey entertainment hall is on Historic England's "heritage at risk" register.

The funding is being provided through the Heritage Enterprise scheme, which is designed to help with repairing historic buildings when costs are otherwise too high to make redevelopment viable.

The project will see the main bar fully restored and open and is expected to create 70 jobs and 45 apprenticeships over the next 15 years.

Stuart Hobley, head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said: "This fascinating historical building has long been at the heart of the community.

"What makes this project particularly exciting is its innovative and commercially-focused approach to securing a sustainable future for this much loved local landmark.

"It is exactly the kind of project for which the Heritage Lottery Fund created Heritage Enterprise."

Jim Ripley, chief executive of Phoenix Community Housing, said: "This is the best news Bellingham has had in decades.

"We're so proud to have the opportunity to restore this historic pub and create a thriving venue for our residents and the wider population of south London to enjoy.

"This project will bring new jobs, new investment and new hope to our area."

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