Devon

Bebo tycoon Michael Birch invests in 'sad state' Devon village

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Media captionThe tycoon has bought five properties in Woolsery

The multi-millionaire founder of the Bebo social networking site has said he pumped money into a North Devon village after seeing its "sad state".

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, California-based tycoon Michael Birch said he felt a "need" to transform Woolsery, where his ancestors have lived since 1700.

He has bought properties including the village pub, an old hotel and the fish and chip shop over the past two years.

Residents have welcomed his support.

Updates on the Bebo founder's investment and other stories

"It was in the saddest state I'd seen the village in my memory," he told the BBC.

"The pub had been closed for a number of years, the manor house had been closed a lot longer... it was knowing that I could do it [help] and knowing that I needed to do it."

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Image caption Residents have "welcomed" the investment by the California based multi-millionaire who spent many summers as a child in the village

Mr Birch has a net worth of $390m (£303m). He and his wife, Xochi Birch, sold Bebo to AOL in March 2008 for $850m.

The 46-year-old said his ancestors had lived in the village since 1700 and he had spent "all his summers" in the area as a child.

"I love living in America and I love coming here... it's a great escape.

"I like bringing my children here and sharing that with them."

Local resident Sonia Hamilton said people were being put off from moving to Woolsery because of the dilapidated buildings.

Image caption Woolsery residents said Michael Birch was "down to earth" and a "really nice guy"

"The pub looked awful, the manor was boarded up... with Michael coming in and renovating both buildings, it's had a feel-good factor in the village."

Robin Edmonds, from Woolsery parish council, said: "It's as good as winning the lottery because there's no way that the parish council and local residents could have come together with enough money to make a go of the pub."

Image caption Mr Birch has also bought the local chippy

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