THE county's community-run pubs are getting together to form a new network after seeing the idea 'take off' in recent years.

Punters who have helped to save eight at-risk pubs from closure will hold the inaugural meeting of the Oxfordshire Community Pubs Network this evening.

The new network is intended to allow people involved in community pubs to share knowledge and ideas to support each other to overcome challenges and make their respective pubs a success.

It will also be a resource to help others who may be looking to set up a similar initiatives where they live.

Graham Shelton came up with the idea for the network with co-organiser Mike Hobbs, after a coach tour of all Oxfordshire's community-run pubs organised by the Campaign for Real Ale last year.

Mr Shelton was involved in the campaign to save the Red Lion in Northmoor four years ago and is now one of 90 shareholders who support the pub's landlords to run the business which returned a dividend for the first time last year.

The Red Lion campaign was one of eight run in recent years that saw pubs including the Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon, the Bull in Great Milton and the The White Hart in Wolvercote change hands from big brewers to being run by a large group of local residents.

Other campaigns, including the ongoing effort to reopen the Crown Pub in South Moreton, are trying to follow in their footsteps.

Mr Shelton said the community model was not always a perfect fix but it was 'a lot of fun' trying to make it work.

He added: "When it looked like we were going to lose the pub, it was the most miserable thing.

"The car park was empty, the lights were off - it was cold and uninviting.

"Now we have a thriving pub that is at the heart of the community.

"I have made 90 new friends and done things I never thought I would do.

"It has been hard work and everybody gives their time for free.

"But if you think it is important that communities are kept together, it's a very exciting thing to do."

The network will concentrate on finding ways the pubs can pool resources in areas such as marketing to be more effective than they would be on their own.

In the future the pubs may even work together to source and purchase products in bulk, according to Mr Shelton.

He said: "I think for groups like CAMRA, the battle over beer has been won with more locally brewed drinks available than ever before.

"The next battle is for the future of our pubs and making sure there are places where we can still actually drink the stuff.

"With the decline of the church, pubs are increasingly the only building left for the community to meet each other.

"I think it is so important that we keep as many open as possible."