Our pubs are great institutions. They do sell beer, wine and spirits, but they also are a feature of local communities: a place where people who feel alone can find someone to chat with, a place where older lonely people can enjoy a quick half-pint before bed. Yet so many of our pubs are at risk of going out of business, many of them replaced by chain-store pubs, which focus more on serving the same menus nationwide, rather than preserve craft breweries, an open log fire and a friendly place to sit with your dog.
The UK pub industry provides nearly 900,000 jobs and contributes almost £25 billion to the economy, each year.
CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) is at the forefront of saving our local pubs. Join up as a member and you get discounts on real ale in pubs, which is a good incentive to support them. This organisation has a manifesto help save local pubs (you can also download a free toolkit, if your pub is at risk from closure):
Why Is Beer Tax So High?
Beer has high taxes throughout the UK. One advantage of leaving the EU is that the government will have the right to reduce beer duty, meaning it will no longer be far cheaper to bulk-buy the same beer in supermarkets. One reason why beer prices are so high, is that each pint includes three types of tax (one of the highest European rates). Pubs (like all businesses in England) have to pay business rates to the local council, based on the value of the property they rent or own. The system is currently structured, so that pubs pay more by ratio than most other types of companies.
CAMRA wants the law changed. At present, the people who own the buildings can charge high rents to pub landlords, who then can’t afford to stay in business, unless they put their prices up. Many pubs are simply rented (often by couples, who see the chance of a job and a home at the same time, as a good little business idea). The Pubs Code Adjudicator is allowed to intervene, but obviously this is not happening, in some cases.
The reason given for having the 2nd highest beer tax in Europe is to save lives by preventing drink-driving and excessive drinking. This is an example of the nanny state gone mad. Most people who drink don’t drive, and excessive drinking is a psychological issue (in Italy and France, there are fewer people with drinking problems, as drinking some wine or beer with meals is part of the culture). If the government wants to cut drink-driving accidents, it would make more sense to spend the time creating limits on bottles and cans, that were easier to understand. Figuring out ‘units’ is for mathematicians, not casual drinkers.
Green Party policy does agree with increasing beer tax (and would reduce drink-drive limits to 50mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood). But the difference is that it would reduce VAT on alcohol sold in pubs (and restaurants) to promote small business, and promote safer alcohol consumption in communal settings.
Start a Community Pub
Plunkett Foundation exists to help start or save community shops, and contains a wealth of expertise and help. This organisation also helps to save community pubs. Or if your pub is in danger of going out of business, they can help you with all the legal paperwork, for the local community to buy the pub instead, so it’s owned by the people. To date, there are around 85 community-owned pubs through the UK, to replace the 14 pubs that close each week.
A community pub has its roots within the community, and binds people together in a way that few other things are able to do. It is a way of securing and preserving something precious; a place where people can share their joys and sorrows, celebrate and commiserate, or just pass the time of day. Plunkett Foundation
The Gardener’s Rest in Sheffield is one of their success stories. This former industrial area helped to save a pub that has been around since 1898, and is a popular community base. With the support of the community and a loan, today the pub serves real ale and non-alcoholic drinks, plays live music three times a week and holds regular quiz and chess nights. There is no jukebox, fruit machine or canned music: instead, pub visitors enjoy a chat with locals or read the free newspapers, to enjoy with a beer or coke. Many local people with learning disabilities are employed by the pub, to create wealth in the local community.
Other Ideas To Save Your Local Pub
- More than a Pub is the place to start. Run by Plunkett Foundation, this is the business support network, that helps you turn your existing pub into one owned by the public. It involves a short course plus help in finding volunteers and funding.
- Join Locality. This organisation has over 600 members, and it’s easy to see why. Join up and you get access to expert help and funding, to save your local pub or shop or project.
- Serve what the supermarkets and chain store pubs and serve spirits from local distilleries, English organic wines and beers from local craft breweries. These are very small companies, so will likely work out special deals with you, if you take regular orders.
- Offer a pub discount card. Publicise membership of CAMRA, as members get discounts on participating pubs and £30 discount vouchers, which they may use to buy from your pub. Membership is a no-brainer as the maths is reverse economics due to a deal they’ve made: membership is less than £30, so the discount vouchers are more than the membership!
- The world is slowly going plant-based, so many people won’t buy alcoholic drinks, unless they know the drinks served are not filtered through fish bladders or animal bones. Don’t make them ask, proudly display which of your drinks are vegan-friendly.
- Pub is the Hub is a website packed with ideas, to bring back local services. Your pub may be going down the drain, but remember that many communities need local services that have disappeared. So if you own a building in the area and are there most of the day, you can get engaged in being a hub for people to stop by. Ideas include coffee mornings for the after-school run and being a free library, with hot drinks on tap. People sometimes meander around malls, because there is no countryside to go for a long walk or friends to talk to. Your pub may be the saving grace of the community!
- Many pubs are dog-friendly. If this is you, have your pub as a stop-off point for walkers in rural areas, offering fresh bowls of water, a place to sit down and some dog biscuits!
- If you have enough space, offer your pub as a place for the local community to arrange farmers’ market stalls, pop-up shops or swishing (clothes swaps).
- Rent or give your space out for community meetings or galleries.
- Host an acoustic house concert. Local musicians play in your pub, with locals supporting them and serving food and drink. These are mostly held in people’s houses, but pubs are also a good idea.
- Have a free community noticeboard or set up a free virtual private network for your community at Next Door.
- If you don’t mind the stress of setting one up, why not consider running a local post office, if others nearby have closed down? Or if this is too much stress, you could still sell stamps and envelopes (and be a parcel drop-off space).