VILLAGERS are involved in a race against time to raise the £700,000 needed to buy a pub which closed two months ago.

People living at Woodgreen, near Fordingbridge, have launched a campaign to purchase the Horse and Groom and turn it into a community pub.

The popular watering hole was designated an asset of community value in a move which gave villagers six months to submit a bid.

They have already raised £300,000 – but the deadline expires on December 12.

Woodgreen has an excellent track record when it comes to community projects. The grade-two listed village hall was expanded in the 1980s and an award-winning community shop was set up in 2007.

Now residents want to buy their local pub in a bid to secure its long-term future.

In a statement they said: “The Horse and Groom has been at the heart of village life since Victorian times and is depicted in the famous murals at the village hall.

“Unfortunately in recent years it has lost some of its lustre, which has presumably led to the brewery putting the property on the market.

“Now it’s up for sale the villagers are determined to work together to revive the pub as a hidden gem in this northern corner of the New Forest.”

The asking price is £550,000 – but campaigners need to raise £700,000 to cover the cost of the purchase, plus legal fees and other expenses.

Julie Rich, who is spearheading attempts to find the cash, said: “This is an amazing opportunity to keep it as a pub for as long as the locals want it.

“The big reason we’re doing this is the village values the Horse and Groom.

“Last year it was made an asset of community value and when it came up for sale we took the opportunity that arose from that to see if we could buy it.

“We have raised £300,000 in two weeks and if we keep going like this we’ll have enough.”

If the campaign succeeds villagers will employ a manager and staff to run the business – and profits will be ploughed back into the community.

The pub, which closed at the end of September, is currently owned by the brewery Hall and Woodhouse.

Director Mark James said: “The Horse and Groom went on sale in June. We are pleased with the level of interest we have received from parties seeking to purchase the pub and hope to complete a sale in the coming months.”