Saving the Village Pub

Sycamore Inn, Parwich

I don’t know if you saw Countryfile on the beeb last night, but there was an excellent feature on saving the village pub, that most important but often-overlooked small business.

The presenter, Tom Heap, travelled up to Derbyshire to visit a number of rural communities. Some had lost their only pub, others were on the brink… Apparently over half of villages are now without a local pub.

But first, the figures – From my own recollections of news coming out of CAMRA, the CAMpaign for Real Ale, there was once an astonishing number of British pubs closing every week – It was over fifty at one point, that’s over 2,500 pub closures every year.

When Tom Heap spoke with Bridget Simmons, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), she said that the number was now much lower – Only twelve pub closures per week. That’s still twelve too many. As Heap put it;

“So you’re doing badly but not as badly as you were.”

The presenter stated that four of those pubs closed every week are rural pubs.

As an example, Bamford, in Derbyshire, once had three thriving pubs. Now it only has one. The Angler’s Rest is the last remaining tavern which has had, the programme said, a “succession of landlords” and now it is struggling to survive.

One local resident of Bamford, David King, recalled how the pub was once privately-owned and a thriving hub of the community. Now, The Angler’s Rest has a “To Let” sign outside and is looking for a new tenant.

Locals have expressed an interest in taking over the running of their local establishment but the owners of the property were asking for £300,000

A former landlord of now boarded-up freehouse, Ye Derwent, David Ryan was asked why village pubs are struggling. He blamed “cheap booze” for sale at “silly prices” in supermarkets as one reason, and then the PubCos as another problem, saying that they were “a bit greedy”.

Bridget Simmons of the BBPA squarely defended the PubCos, saying that they were not part of the problem but “very much part of the solution” adding that:

“It’s in no company’s interest that the pubs that they own are closing.”

A couple of local examples, here in Farnborough, might make you wonder otherwise: The George Inn, Farnborough Road, was demolished and replaced with flats. The Queens Head, Marrowbrook Lane, was also flattened and is now a tight estate of housing. Don’t tell me that the landowners didn’t make a bigger profit by selling properties rather than pints.

Simmons continued to point to other reasons for pub closures, including beer taxation, which she says has gone up 42% in the last 4 years, and VAT, currently at 20%, which she believes could be reduced, as it is on the continent, for service industries. Business rates were also mentioned for cutting as was the need for country pubs to have to diversify.

At the end of the day though local people have to continue to go to the pub. It’s no good saying support your local pub if you never visit it.

That’s totally true. But, without PubCo stats, let’s have a look at the figures that Countryfile provided:

The cost of a pint of beer is made up of 60% overheads and 32% tax, leaving a meagre 8% for the landlord. That amounts to something like 25p per pint.

With figures like that, pub landlords need all the help they can get.

Is Diversification the Key to Saving the Village Pub?

The Sycamore Inn, Pawich, also in Derbyshire, is the only pub in the village. It is also the only shop. But it never used to be that way – The landlady, Janet Gosling, chose to diversify and turn the old pub dining room into the village store. It also provides laundry and prescription services.

But there is a price to this success though, with the landlady regularly working 80-90 hour weeks. If you think an extra hour in the morning and another hour at the end of every night is a lot, then just try running that pub!

So how did The Sycamore Inn come to this hard-working challenge to stay afloat and serve its local community? Step in, John Longden of charity The Pub is the Hub. By following the organisation’s template, the Sycamore Inn diversified its income stream, an absolute must for country pubs to survive in today’s difficult climate.

Since 2001, Longden’s charity has established connections with various organisations, from regional development agencies and local authorities, to private sector bodies. The successful partnerships have resulted in numerous investments that have saved a number of community pubs.

This is not only encouraging for rural community operated pubs but could also provide a glimmer of hope for all local pubs, and round here, Farnborough’s beloved Tumble Down Dick, which was closed in 2008 and played a vital part in the town’s social scene. As it says on the homepage of “The Pub is the Hub” website:

If your community is looking for practical advice and support on the best way to take over, set up and run a good community pub, please contact us and we will try to meet your group to help them, or talk to them over the phone and put them in touch with others who have been through the process.

There is hope…

By is4profit editor Paul Mackenzie Ross


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