Pubs are a British institution, a tradition which has held for centuries. But now the beer is drying up, and many taprooms are boarding up their doors and windows up for good. Just a few years ago, pubs around the UK were closing at a staggering rate of 29 per week. While that figure has dropped, pubs are still closing at a rate of around two premises per day, risking the long-term future of this mainstay of British culture.
The decline of one of the UK’s most iconic industries has been caused by a number of factors. Increased tax burdens, business rates, the ban on smoking in public places and cultural shifts and attitudes towards alcohol have all been pinpointed as culprits. But pubs have always been a staple in British communities, and landlords threatened with closure are finding new ways to stay in operation.
Communities can band together to buy the pub
Cooperative pubs are becoming commonplace, as more communities are getting together to buy a failing local pub. According to a report published in July 2017, the cooperative pub sector had grown by 15%, with 50 community pubs now trading around England and Wales. They are able to do this by taking advantage of the Localism Act, which allows the pub to be listed as an asset of community value (ACV). If an ACV listed pub is ever put up for sale, it is subject to an initial six week moratorium period; if the community decides they could raise the funds to buy, the moratorium period can be extended to six months.
In some cases, the pub can be sold to the community before it closes down for good, allowing for no interruption in serving its regular customers. In some cases, the money doesn’t necessarily come from the local community alone. Kitty Smith, the secretary of the cooperative that bought the Butchers Arms in Cumbria, explained how the online fundraising proved so popular that they were dealing with investors from Alaska and Australia who were keen to get in on the action.
Community-owned pubs often do more within the community beyond simply serving as a pub. According to Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a good community pub “provides an environment where everyone should feel welcome and feel comfortable”. This could be through offering Mums and Tots groups, running senior citizen groups during the days and evenings, or by organising events that encourage social interactions such as pub quizzes. This can help to reignite the community spirit that the British are so famous for.
Property guardians can prevent pubs being turned into shops
Pubs that are forced to close run the risk of being bought out by other businesses and being converted into other uses. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, all drinking establishments can be converted into stores, such as retail outlets, without needing approval from the local planning authority. This can be much easier to do once the pub closes and becomes a vacant property, unless measures are taken to keep the pub open. However, if this isn’t possible, the best bet to ensuring a pub remains a pub is to offer it up to property guardianship.
This provides a number of benefits to the property owners, including protection against squatters and criminals looking to vandalise empty buildings. According to property protection experts Oaksure, property guardians also ensure that the building remains maintained, and is kept in good working and living condition. This makes it easier to get the establishment up and running again once someone has purchased the pub.
It’s much more beneficial for owners to open up their closed pubs to property guardians, as owners of empty properties are still required to pay business rates after a building has been left vacant for three months. Property guardians can be used as a way to generate some form of income during this period, as guardians are required to pay rent —which is much cheaper than classic accommodation costs. Pub landlords are already taking advantage of this scheme, and a number of old pubs are currently being looked after by property guardians around the UK, while the future of the building is uncertain. This method has proved successful for a number of pubs, including The Good Mixer, which hosted nine property guardians in the heart of Camden.
The demise of classic British pubs needs to be addressed. Pubs are a quintessential part of British culture, and every effort should be put in place to ensure that they remain open. Between using property guardians to buy some time before a landlord can buy the building to reopen it, or having the local community buy the pub, the future of British pubs could still be bright.