IT has served generations of residents and tourists since it opened more than 100 years ago.

The Forest Heath Hotel in Station Road, Sway, was built shortly after the railway arrived in the picturesque New Forest village at the end of the 19th century.

However, it closed last year and a developer is expected to submit an application to turn the Grade II listed property into flats.

Now villagers have joined forces with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in a bid to block the scheme. They hope the move will result in the building being retained for community use, with a pub in one side and a café in the other.

A group called Save the Forest Heath Hotel has been launched on a social networking site and has already attracted almost 400 members.

Residents are also hoping to enlist the support of broadcasters Chris Evans and Jamie Oliver and actor Neil Morrissey, all of whom have owned pubs.

Campaigners include Brian Hetherington-Ford, 49, of Anderwood Drive, Sway, who used to be a relief manager at the popular watering hole.

He said: “The Forest Heath was a community pub in the heart of the village. It hosted a carol concert at Christmas and was also a great place to watch the carnival.”

Mr Hetherington-Ford stressed that the pub attracted trade to the area as well as providing people with a place to meet and socialise.

“When it closed last year trade in the village shop went down by 25 per cent,” he said.

“About 95 per cent of the people we’ve polled so far say they want to see a pub in one side of the building and a café in the other.”

The Forest Heath has been closed since the landlord was forced out by high rents, according to former regulars.

A CAMRA spokesman said Admiral Taverns had recently sold the building to a private developer who wanted to turn it into apartments. Admiral Taverns confirmed that the sale had gone ahead but declined to make any further comment.

Mr Hetherington-Ford said a large number of villagers would lodge objections if an application for flats was submitted to the National Park Authority.