The Antwerp Arms: The Community Pub
Property developers aren’t having it their own way when it comes converting pubs in flats. The Antwerp Arms, backed by the the local community, is one such pub who fought the developers & won.
In 2013 it appeared that The Antwerp Arms, the oldest working pub in London’s N17 Tottenham area, was destined to join the legion of other beloved locals that had been bought by property developers in the hope of converting them into flats.
And then the Antwerp Arms Association got to work. A colourful group of locals, the AAA was determined to save the pub. A campaign to have the Antwerp listed as an Asset of Community Value (introduced by the Localism Act 2011, it allows local groups to list a pub as an asset thus protecting your local from demolition or change of use without planning application) had already been successful (the pub itself is situated in a conservation area). So, utilising the ACV, the Association set about buying the pub, affectionately known as the Annie.
In April, after a two-year battle, the AAA finally received the keys to the Annie. Suddenly a group of disparate local residents found themselves owners of a pub.
We paid the Annie a visit to learn more about the campaign to save the pub; hear about its links to Tottenham Hotspur, the importance of sport to the pub and, best of all, see how the notion of a Community Pub exists in reality.
Manager: Steve Alderson
Antwerp Arms Association Vice-Chair: Mav Highsted
Antwerp Arms Association Director/Heritage and Community: Chris Lane
Number of Screens: 4
We knew we needed to show sport: “One of the things the regulars were most concerned about when we took over was whether we’d stop showing sport. But we don’t have a lot of footfall and that (sport) brings people in. But even more importantly our customers wanted us to keep it.”
Traditionally, we’re an away-friendly pub: “We still do take away fans — they generally contact us to check it’s ok; we just advise them to keep their colours covered and no songs, all that sort of thing. We’ve got guys who have been coming here for years from all over the country — there’s a Liverpool crowd, a Newcastle crowd… Everton… there are no troublemakers.”
It’s not just football: “Our customers like their darts, any darts that is on the TV we’ll show. A couple of them want to watch the American Football — I’m constantly turning the channels over. We show the rugby. Yesterday we had the Six Nations on between the Premier League matches. We’ll show Spanish football — basically we try and accommodate whatever people want to watch.”
Screening the Rugby World Cup was good: “Although England got knocked out early, we have some Welsh regulars so they helped to maintain interest — and indulge in some gentle wind-ups with the English fans.”
Showing football has been a success: “We have people that come in here specifically to watch the midweek European games on BT Sport.”
We have two sets of regulars: “Those that live here and those that are always in here before and after the home games. On a match day, if it’s live on TV, you’ll get the crowd that have travelled here (by trains, coach or whatever) and they’ll be here until 20 minutes or so before kick-off and as they go all the locals who aren’t going to the game come in to watch it on TV.”
The atmosphere is brilliant when Spurs are on TV: “We’ll have people stood outside because it’s so packed in here — they can still see a screen. The bar can be three or four-deep on a matchday. It’s packed. There’s singing. Being a Spurs supporter we’re waiting for the wheels to fall off, it happens every year. But I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.”
“After the Man City result they were still singing an hour after the game finished.”
We’re about to start doing food: “We need to do food. We’re looking at two menus. Something quick and easy for matchdays — food you can hold in your hand without having to sit down.”
We’re going to be doing street food: “We got the idea after visiting a pub in Highgate — they did burgers with a Scottish theme, they had haggis in, macaroni cheese… Something different; informal. We don’t have the space to do sit down dining here, but we want to do food.”
We did spend a significant amount of time looking at beer: “I think we’ve got the balance right now. We will always try new beers. The real ale picked itself — thanks to the local Redemption Brewery. Beavertown is another local craft beer that we sell.”
The matchday fans love Redemption’s Hopspur: “It might be the name!”
We’ve got our own beer on the way: “Antwerp Ale will be sold from the beginning of March.”
We have Friday music nights: “On the second Friday of the month and the last Friday. We want to be a pub that is associated with live music. We have everything from jazz to soul to rock to reggae and African music. We want to encourage local bands as well to showcase them.”
We’re a community pub: “We have a knitting group that meet in here. Our local community choir (New Tottenham Singers) are shareholders and they come in here. Christmas and New Year was great – we have a piano and we had a fantastic sing-song, carol singing… We have community meetings here. Heritage meetings have been held here. If people want to use us they can.”
We have to be a destination pub: “We haven’t got buses going past or what have you, so we have to ensure people come to us. We have to get our message out there and then people will hopefully make the journey here. We’re in a conservation area – we’ve got Bruce Castle Museum, All Hallows’ Church, the park – so there’s amenities that people can access and use and then come into the pub. We’re making links with lots of local businesses and attractions.”
Pubs have got to adapt: “Especially a pub like ours that isn’t on the High Street and that doesn’t get a lot of passing trade. You have to be diverse; linked with different groups. We’ve tried to open it up to everybody – we want people to come in and try us out.”
Free WiFi is important: “That’s another box ticked. We want people to come in and take advantage of that.”
It’s all about reviews and recommendations now: “We ask people to recommend us. People will often praise us but they don’t necessarily share it online. We ask people to do that. That’s a challenge. But I think we do well.”
A website is really important: “Being on Google is really important. I’ve got statistics that I can analyse – you can analyse the stats. It’s interesting and it really helps to build a promotional campaign in terms of where people are accessing you from.”
The shareholders own the pub and The Antwerp Arms Association manage the pub for the shareholders: “Steve manages the pub. He and his staff run the pub on a day-to-day level. We (the AAA) manage the bigger project.”
Social media was instrumental in building the following and gaining support for our campaign: “The Facebook page was built when we started the campaign. And the Twitter page was built from scratch. Our regulars – the football fans in particular – use Twitter a lot. We use social media to show what games we’re showing, what events we have on, what beers we have etc…”
There’s a lot of buzz around the pub: “People love coming to the pub, they love the staff.”
With its first-year anniversary as a community pub approaching, the Antwerp Arms seems to be a proper success story. It was recently awarded CAMRA’s North London Pub of the Season (Winter 2015/16). On May 1 2016 it celebrated its first birthday with a Grand Opening in aid of the Mayor of Haringey’s charity, All People All Places.
Look out for our forthcoming article that examines in detail how the Annie was saved.