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Saving the British Pub

The usual reaction when talking about the state of the UK pub industry is to focus on the negative. Not everything is rosy in the beer garden but many in the industry are fighting back to safeguard its future.

First the bad news: both CAMRA and the Lost Pubs Project estimate that four pubs a day are closing in the UK. If that figure of roughly 30 pubs a week shutting its doors for the final time were to carry on unhindered then all of the UK’s remaining 50,000 bars and pubs would be gone by 2050.


Imagine that. It won’t happen of course (thank God), but that doesn’t mean bar and pub owners, landlords, local communities and the nation should be complacent.


These are tough times for the pub industry. Ridiculously cheap supermarket booze, the smoking ban, rises in VAT and beer duty and falling attendances (a combination of the increased moves towards healthier living and the continued fallout from the 2008 recession) have hit pubs hard. And in the background, predatory property developers lurk waiting to turn your local into another block of flats.


Now the good news: as we’ve seen elsewhere, bars and pubs are fighting back. Many are successfully adapting to the new set of 21st Century realities. The best remain intrinsically a neighbourhood’s (and that means inner cities as much as rural areas) heart and soul. The hallowed halls of academia have even recognised this. A study led by economist Dr Ignazio Cabras found village pubs are a key indicator of a healthy local community.


English Pub


The Guardian’s Tom Lamont put it best when describing the modern bar and pub: “A pub is not a bar. It is not a restaurant. It is not a social club. It is not a shop. It is not a bench in a park. It is not a surgery or psychiatrists’ office. It is not a gig venue, a football stadium, a fighting pit, a staff room, a piano room. It is not the house you grew up in, nor the atrocious digs you moved to in your 20s. It is not your present-day living room. It is not a bus shelter. And in some way it is all those things. It is a pub.”


Thankfully, this notion of the pub as a social hub is finally being recognised in the corridors of power. There are now actions local pressure groups and organisations can take to prevent more bars and pubs being unceremoniously closed and converted into flats.


What follows are actions you can take now to safeguard your bar or pub’s future…


Asset of Community Value

Pub-goers have long argued that bars & pubs encourage community and social cohesion and that’s now been backed up by academic research. Applying for an ACV means that planning permission would be required for property developers to change the use of a building. North London’s much-loved Antwerp Arms took advantage of this relatively new piece of legislation in 2013 and it ultimately saved the pub. CAMRA indicates that 850 pubs have received ACV status and it wants to reach 3,000 by the end of the year.


Antwerp Arms


Community Pub Ownership

The dream of owning your own pub can become a reality – as well as being a local hero – by the community coming together to buy the pub. The Plunkett Foundation assists those wanting to explore the idea of running a business as a community. Camra has issued a handy how-to guide to Community Pub Ownership here.


Social Media

The power of social media hasn’t been lost on bars/pubs wishing to promote themselves effectively. Any campaign to save your local will take note of the incredible reach of Facebook and Twitter.


Other Actions

Lobby your MP, speak to local councillors, contact local planning authorities, get the media on board and more…


Houses of Parliament


Last Orders

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to saving Britain’s pubs. The majority of Brits recognise a bar or pub’s intrinsic value, but that in itself won’t save your establishment. By adapting and keeping things modern, there are things bar managers’ can be doing now. Sign up for ACV status. Maintain your pub’s position as a social and community hub. Fight them on the beaches. Never surrender.