British pubs and communities winning the battle against closures

LONDON, UK – British pubs can be found the world over, but in Britain they have been on the road to extinction for years.

Massive closures of drinking establishments have been occurring right across the UK for for the best part of the past two decades.

The shut-downs are not just impacting small business owners and pub operators, but towns, villages and cities that are losing vital entertainment, dining and social venues. The local pub is also a tourist attraction, but even more importantly is considered a hub for most communities with social clubs, sporting groups and service clubs using them as defacto headquarters, and meeting places. Now these groups and communities-at-large are attracting government support.

An example of what has been taking place occurred with The Dog Inn at Belthorn near Blackburn which has been supported by the government-supported ‘More Than A Pub’ and ‘Pub Is The Hub’ programs.

In the past, the village of Belthorn had over ten pubs, a shop, tearoom, chip shop, newsagent and community centre. But, by November 2015, all those operations had gone.

At the end of 2015, the residents of Belthorn took the collective step to bring the heart of the community back into the village via The Dog Inn by co-locating all the services and amenities that had long since disappeared.

The residents of Belthorn benefited from a Pub is The Hub grant of £4,000 to create a community caf, as well as helping the community to purchase equipment to make presentations in the community meeting room where village group meetings are now held. Work is also underway on a community garden and allotments by the pub.

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As a result of the funding, the Belthorn pub now boasts a vibrant village committee, a history society group and a craft and chat group, all of which meet regularly at The Dog Inn.

The British government abolished the unpopular beer and alcohol duty escalators, cut business taxes for pubs in a bid to combat the closures. Thousands of communities also rasllied in support and have taken advantage of the right to protect their local pubs from closure by listing them as assets of community value.

Steps taken are now turning the tide. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, show there was a net gain of 320 pubs in the year to March this year – the first increase in a decade.

On a national scale, ‘A toast to the Great British Pub’ is being touted for this Christmas, with over £1 million of new government money for community pubs, the UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced on Saturday.

The funding will help an estimated 100 new groups to take ownership of and save their local pub, or support their essential community services based in pubs in rural and remote areas.

Secretary of State for Communities Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick said:

“The Great British pub is one of the cornerstones of British life.

From the Rose and Crown, to the King’s Arms, our pubs remain at the very heart of our cities, towns and villages.

This new funding will boost the number of community-owned pubs and pub-based community services. It will offer sustainability and create valuable new jobs in the process, both in our great pubs and within our great communities.

Pubs run by the community and for the community help bring people closer together. Importantly, they are a space for older, vulnerable and more isolated residents to access important local services and feel part of their communities.”

More Than a Pub provides small grants and specialist advice for community groups at the start of their journey to community ownership. It also supports groups later in the process who require specialist professional advice with larger grants and loans to help with business planning, conveyancing, architectural help or financial advice.

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£500,000 will be allocated to Pub is The Hub to enable a range of projects providing new, pub-based community services from post offices and shops to libraries and allotments. This will increase the services available in rural and remote communities and help sustain pubs as community assets and businesses.

John Longden, Chief Executive of Pub is The Hub said:

“We welcome the government’s recognition of the wider social role that licensees, as small business owners, and their staff can play in supporting and providing additional services and activities to support their local communities.

Pubs run by good licensees are part of our national identity and can strengthen the fabric of all communities, particularly in rural areas where they support issues such as loneliness or social isolation.”

Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change, said:

“This additional investment from MHCLG is very welcome. Community controlled pubs are so valuable to the people who use them, offering a huge range of crucial services including lunch clubs for vulnerable people, training and development, gardening and cooking classes and parenting groups. Every penny counts in supporting this thriving, but fledgling, sector.”