'50 pubs close every month in England and Wales - life without a local is not worth considering'

Here’s a joke. A bloke walks into a pub with a lump of asphalt on his shoulder and says to the barman: “Give me a pint and one for the road.”

Pubs are tradition going back centuries - but more are under threat
Pubs are tradition going back centuries - but more are under threat

How about this: “A good local pub has much more in common with a church, except it’s warmer and there is much more conversation.”

Thanks to comedy legend Tommy Copper and English poet William Blake for providing a couple of humorous lines about pubs and there are thousands more out there.

That is the effect of the pub, a very British tradition.

According to Spandau Ballet star Tony Hadley, there is nothing better than standing at a bar, talking nonsense, while sipping a pint of real ale: “Give me a pub rather than a fancy wine bar or a nightclub any day. They really are the hub of local communities and I hate the fact that so many are closing.”

He is right, 50 pubs are closing every month in England and Wales, according to a recent survey.

The pub tradition is thought to date back two millennia.

There is a funny segment in the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, when the People’s Front of Judea, (or was it the Judean People’s Front) led by John Cleese, was discussing the Romans. What did the Romans ever do for us was the question followed by a long list of Roman achievements.

They forgot about the pub though. Yes, that is something the Romans did for us. It was an invading Roman army that built pubs known as tabernae. They sold wine and were quickly built on Roman roads and in towns to service troops.

The first ales were then developed and the rest, as they say, is history. Taverns, inns and ale houses became part of British culture.

We can imagine the idyllic picture postcard village setting, flower-bedecked in the summer, sipping a warm ale in the garden, or cosying up in front of a log fire in winter. It’s where friends and sometimes adversaries gather, putting the world to rights in an increasingly loud and raucous way as the night goes on and the drinks flow freely.

It is also seen generally as a safe place. Somewhere to take the family for a meal, where your grandparents and children can feel safe. It can develop community, with pub games like darts, crib dominoes and bar billiards, all of which bring people together.

We have had Christmas parties there, christenings, wedding receptions, wakes and just about any other excuse for a gathering.

The landlord is a pillar of the community who is a father confessor, mentor or bouncer depending on the behaviour of the customers.

The sad thing now is that since the pandemic, and now the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, pubs are shutting their doors at an alarming rate.

The 50-a-day closure figure comes from a survey compiled by analytics company Altus Group.

The survey says that between the end of June and September, a total of 150 pubs were either demolished or turned into homes and offices - close to the 200 pubs which shut in the whole previous six months.

The industry is one of the worst hit by the chronic labour shortage, much of which can be attributed to many European workers returning home post-Brexit.

With a pint of premium lager heading towards £5 and sometimes beyond, depending on the venue, hard-pressed families are staying home, preferring to buy much cheaper booze from supermarkets.

For many, the damage is surely self-inflicted. Some of the major breweries continue to raise their prices, without offering the service that should go with it.

How many times have people stood in a queue for around 10 minutes, waiting to be charged £10 for two drinks by harassed members of staff doing the work of three people.

Some turn to chains like Wetherspoons with their discount prices. But even they have felt the cold reality of the cost-of-living crisis and chairman Tim Martin has been forced to put 32 pubs up for sale. Pub managers must do as they are told and follow the corporate line. For tenants, it is a slightly different situation. They rent their premises but must take the brewery products and have little control over prices. For free houses, the owners can take food and drink from wherever they like, so have some control over what they charge customers.

But it is a Catch-22 situation for pubs and breweries, themselves hit by huge ingredient price rises and energy bills, trying to lure customers back. There is help with energy bills for UK pubs and breweries cut by around half their expected level this winter under a huge government support package. The scheme fixed wholesale gas and electricity prices for businesses for six months from 1 October.

Consumer and Industry groups welcomed the package but warned further support may be needed after the winter.

Campaign for Real Ale national chairman Nik Antona said the government announcement provides much-needed certainty and will help to safeguard the nation’s pubs and breweries for the next six months as they grapple with the crisis of rising costs and consumers tightening their belts.

The outlook for many is still bleak, but there are glimmers of hope. Many more of these pubs under threat are being taken over by local community groups.

As well as offering traditional pub hospitality, they can also organise events, and use their premises to host library facilities, mini shops or post offices.

Some of those services have been lost through the austerity years and these pubs are allowing them to be taken back by the community.

According to CAMRA, three Northumberland village pubs have stocked up on firewood – and friendship – to help their customers stay warm this winter.

The Olde Ship at Seahouses, the Percy Arms of Chatton and the Anglers Arms in Longframlington have launched an initiative to ensure hot drinks, company and warmth are available seven days a week.

For those on the edge, there are ways to attract customers back with the likes of live music, specialist ale nights, quiz nights and showing big events on TV screens.

There is another ray of hope. Having missed out hugely on revenue from a summer World Cup, pubs can look forward to possibly bumper revenues from screening games from the winter World Cup this month and into December, followed by the traditional extra boost at Christmas and New year.

Let’s hope it is a Merry Christmas for the British pub and hope for a prosperous enough new year to at least allow most to survive.

Sadly, for many it is already too late.

Most Read

Most Read

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News