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.

World Cup Trouble Afoot?

It seemed as though common sense had broken out in Westminster when ministers announced plans to extend opening hours for England’s World Cup games this summer.

Within hours however, Police, Magistrates and Daily Mail hacks were warning of the carnage that would inevitably follow as fans kicked lumps out of each other whilst celebrating the inexorable march of the mighty national team to World Cup Glory.

Cue more photographs of staggering drunks, girls in gutters and bleeding heads. Steel yourselves for further reports of how the evil of alcohol continues to turn our streets into hell on earth and our consumers into moronic, evil minded monsters. I am quite surprised that the Zombie Killing Computer Gamers have not yet moved to wiping out the pub goer.

Such commentators might be surprised to learn that alcohol has been present in this country for centuries and, here’s a real revelation, so have young people. Until quite recently they have managed to co-exist relatively peacefully though I am the first to admit that we are currently witnessing some isolated but appalling scenes of antisocial behaviour in and around our pubs and town centres.

We also witness similarly appalling behaviour on our council estates, recreation grounds and street corners where the nearest pub might be miles away. We hear of appalling lack of discipline in schools, with teachers and pupils assaulted on a daily basis. To the best of my knowledge, we have not yet started to sell cans of Kestrel in the school Tuck Shop or offering free shots with the free school milk.

The real issue is not the presence of alcohol, it is the absence of respect. This in turn has led to a systematic breakdown in law and order with the police unable or powerless to intervene in antisocial behaviour and the courts unwilling to impose meaningful sentences on those thugs who repeatedly flash two fingers in the face of society.

In the sixties, seventies and eighties, beer was cheaper, in real terms, than it is today and consumption levels were significantly higher. There were more pubs, more discos, more nightclubs and more young people using them. There was also more fear and respect for the law. Troublemakers were hauled off to the cells and magistrates dealt with them robustly. Drinkers, even the highly irresponsible and undesirable ones knew exactly how much they could get away with and where the line was drawn.

Now the police just stand by and watch the trouble fester and explode whilst the courts simply invite the thugs to hone their skills by returning them with soft psychological counselling ringing in their ears and the distant threat of a jolly good telling off if they find themselves in court again for the eleventh time. Twelve strikes and it’s and ASBO for you my lad!

Nobody denies that alcohol has an effect on a person’s mood and behaviour but responsible licensees have never been better trained or equipped to deal with trouble makers. What a shame that they are constantly let down by the people that their excessive tax and duty payments are funding.

If you have been involved with, or had to deal with antisocial behaviour, in or around the pub, please share your experiences and solutions with us.