Bid to halt decline of village pub
A rallying cry has been sounded to stem the decline of the traditional pub and encourage thriving businesses to share the secrets of their success.For centuries pubs have been an essential part of rural life but, like post offices, corner shops and even village halls, their future is increasingly under threat.
SOUTH Norfolk is at the forefront of a rallying cry to halt the decline of the traditional pub and encourage thriving businesses to share the secrets of their success.
For centuries pubs have been an essential part of rural life but, like post offices, corner shops and even village halls, their future is increasingly under threat.
A “perfect storm” combination of factors like the consumer spending squeeze, higher costs, competition from supermarkets, the smoking ban and a shift towards healthier leisure activities are being blamed for the decline - with figures from the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) suggesting as many as 57 pubs a week are closing across the country.
Now more than 100 Norfolk landlords have been asked for their views on how best to maintain a successful business in a bid to change the fortunes of failing pubs and save what, for some, is the last meeting place in the community.
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The move is the idea of South Norfolk District Council which has set up a new task force which could provide a blueprint for all communities.
Keith Weeks, chairman of the four-strong group, said he was aware of pub closures in Hempnall and Pulham Market, adding: “We are trying to move fairly quickly because if we are going to make a difference the sooner we can get cracking the better.
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“With the demise of the post office, if the pubs go as well then some villages are going to be left without anything. The council is extremely concerned about the closures of rural public houses and the possible effects on local communities.
“We hope to invite landlords as expert witnesses to come up with ideas that may help others. As a rural council we are well aware how important it is to have a place where people can meet. Pubs serve a multitude of uses. Often within the grounds you get the village fete.
“We would like to try and find solutions for as many pubs as we can. It may be there is some finance available but we are not talking along those lines yet.”
The committee has written to all 105 pub landlords in the district canvassing views on the issues - and the hope is that special hearings will be held to tap into their expertise.
A report on the outcome is due to be presented at the end of this month and Mr Weeks believes its conclusions could be rolled out across Norfolk and beyond to help publicans.
In North Norfolk six pubs have disappeared completely in the last couple of years. In Broadland The Bell at Salhouse, Kings Head at Lingwood, Parson Woodforde and The Two Friends at Blofield ahev all called time.
Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers' Associations, said: “It's a trend throughout the country. Consumers haven't got the money. Their bills for their gas and electricity and mortgages have all gone up.
“Things have all added up and when you come to the final bill you realise how much more it is costing.
“Last year the licensing trade raised £120m for charities and how many Sunday football teams would fold if there was no pub?
“I can remember in the 1970s when beer went up by 70pc in four years - that's when the pubs started doing food. Every licensee has got to do something different, look at the business and find out what the consumers want.”
There is also anecdotal evidence in the pub trade that England's failure to qualify for the Euro 08 football championships may also have pushed some over the edge.
Jon Clemo, of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said: “What we seem to be seeing is the loss of the local pub. If it survives it tends to reinvent itself as a gastro-pub, but when that happens the clientele isn't necessarily the local people.
“It's not the pub itself but the function it plays which can be important.”