Lost somewhere amongst the dissolution of the USSR, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the Arab Spring was our own mass social revolution in the UK pub trade. Pub numbers have been declining, not quite in proportion with the decline in beer sales, but helping to spread an already meagre level of trade amongst those licensees bold enough to keep their doors open.
In particular, Local, wet led community pubs are declining whilst rural restaurants and city centre style bars are growing.
A recent Beer Industry summit, hosted by the grandly titled British Guild Of Beer Writers said this of the local Community Pub;
“if you’re a wet-let community boozer unable to adapt to changing circumstances, then yes, your life expectancy may well not be much greater than the mufflered and cloth-capped old gentleman silently sitting in a corner of your bar with a half-pint of bitter, watching the racing on Sky Sports. If, however, you’ve realised that the competition you face is not the pub down the road, but the coffee shop opposite, and you have adapted accordingly – not just by serving excellent coffee yourself, and boosting your food offer past stale pork pies, but by installing free Wi-Fi, for example – then yes, you should be in a position to survive and thrive.”
Sorry chaps, but this is, at best, patronising and at worst, defamatory. There always has been, still is and hopefully always will be a place for the corner street local where that cloth capped gentleman might watch his racing, in the company of like-minded, financially independent, honest working class blokes without being distracted by the constant ping of the microwave or pungent smell of ocean gathered scallops glazed in a squid ink and quails egg marinade.
Amber Taverns, in the North of England now operate almost one hundred well run, heavily frequented community pubs and enjoy average weekly levels of beer sales second only to J D Wetherspoon. Their catering offer comprises ready salted crisps. Their Gourmet bars add Cheese and Onion crisps and pork scratchings. The customers know each other. They talk to each other, they support each other. This is a Community concept in every sense of the word.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a pub called Uncle Jack’s in Blackburn. It stands just under a mile away from the town’s football club and is named after its former owner, Jack Walker. On this occasion, Rovers were playing, top of the table Leicester City. The pub was packed, four deep by Leicester and Blackburn fans, sharing banter, welcoming the visitors, wishing each other luck and enjoying perfectly served ales and lagers all in their appropriate branded glasses. The match ended in a draw, everyone went home happy, including the bar staff.
Community Pubs raise millions of pounds every year for local and national charities. They provide refuge and comfort for many people and yes, that mufflered, cloth capped gentleman might be one of them but thank goodness that some operators recognise that there is a market and an offering that recognises and appreciates them.
To be fair to the esteemed Guild of Beer Writers, they do concede that not all community pubs are akin to God’s Waiting room and groups like Amber may well prove that Local Community Pubs still have a future.