Care In The Community

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.

A golden age for pubs?

We’ve all read the constant bad news about pubs – closures, smoking ban, beer duty escalators, cheap supermarket booze. All bad news for sure, but could it actually be that we are entering what is actually a golden age for pubs?

The summer of 2012 is sure to be a mixed bag for the UK. The excitement of the Olympics, Golden Jubilee & Euro 2012, coupled with the strains and stresses of at best a poor economic outlook, at worst a full on European crisis. Good or bad news, what is becoming more important than ever is strong community – and the Great British pub remains the focal point that fosters great community spirit and togetherness.

Couple this with the ever growing consumer trend for craft products (think sausages from the pig nextdoor, real ale from a diversified farm in the local village), and it could well be that the local pub is actually holding all the cards.

It’s always going to be hard work, but we just get the feeling that we could well be entering a new golden age for pubs.

NEWSFLASH – Pubs are still great value

If you read the popular press every day, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the price of a pint was so outrageous that there really was no point at all in popping into your local for a quick jar without first having consulted your bank manager.

Now, to be clear, we’re not saying that we agree with the current tax regime that beer continues to suffer from, nor are we saying that we are unaware of the tight financial times that we are all living in. However, to be able to go into a warm, welcoming, friendly pub & to enjoy a bit of chat with whoever happens to be in just has to be a few quid well spent.

Of course we should continue to fight our corner in the politics of pubs and beer, but let’s not get ourselves so wound up that we convince ourselves that the Great British pub offers poor value for money – in the vast majority of cases pubs offer an unrivalled bit of time out for a fantastically small price.

The best way to support pubs is to make sure we all keep going and to champion all that is good rather than focus on the things that are not so good.

We’ll drink to that.

Pubs are recession-beaters

Over the last few days some of the UK’s biggest pub operators have posted really very strong figures. JD Wetherspoon and Greene King have both reported that people are still going to the pub and spending money. They may even be going more and spending more that normal.

Although both are wary about the future – and frankly who isn’t? – they both agree that during a recession, whilst people may be cutting back on big ticket luxuries, the may even increase their spending on the smaller more affordable pleasures in life.

In the worst recession(s) in a generation, this has to be good news for pubs. Perhaps one of the good things that often comes out of troubled times is a stronger sense of community – and the pub is proving once again to be right at the heart of local people pulling together for the greater good.

So come on DC – take note, pubs can play a crucial role in getting us out of this mess. Help them and they will help us all rise to the challenge.