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Get down your local!

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake

Posted April 02, 2014
Pubs: They're bloody ace. (Check bottom for credit)

CAMRA has kicked off Community Pubs Month with its list of Local Pubs of the Year plus some rather alarming stats.

Yesterday (1/4/14) wasn't just April Fools Day and a good friend's birthday, but also the start of the Campaign for Real Ale's (CAMRA) Community Pubs Month.

While we marked the day by running a series of scurrilous lies on our front page, including one about the EU ruling against craft beer, and then getting drunk, CAMRA instead chose to announce its list of more than 200 Local Pubs of the Year, which can be viewed here.

According to a press release, the list is the result of local CAMRA branches, "which consist of thousands of volunteers", judging "all of the pubs in their area" on their décor; value for money; customer service; whether they appeal to all different demographics; and, of course, the quality of the real ale served.

These local branch winners (congratulations all round) will now go forward "to battle it out in the regional heats in their quest to become National Pub of the Year", which will be announced early next year.

"I would like to thank all of the volunteers that have judged pubs up and down the country," says CAMRA chairman Colin Valentine.

"This can take a lot of dedication to find the best real ale pubs in the area."

"We like to announce the winners in Community Pubs Month to highlight the best pubs Britain has to offer to help raise the profile of pub-going."

"New research shows 28 pubs close every week across Britain and 38% of British adults no longer visit pubs."

"Community Pubs Month has been launched to help raise the profile of the British pub and pub-going."

"Thousands of pubs across the Britain will be participating in this campaign by organising events and trying new marketing initiatives to attract more trade during April."

"There are literally thousands of wonderful pubs that need our support at this moment in time and I would urge everyone to visit their local pub in April and discuss with the licensee ways he or she could encourage you to visit more regularly."

Meanwhile, according to another CAMRA press release that we should've run yesterday but didn't on account of us being down our local, further new research shows that more than 50 pubs across the UK are now being run by local communities.

Many of these, it says, "were facing closure before being saved by locals" and thus the listing, available to view here, "represents a growing trend of communities looking to save their local pub by buying and running it themselves".

"The Great British pub is something unique and deserving of protection and it is inspiring to see so many communities across the UK fighting to save their local by raising the money to purchase it themselves," Valentine states.

"With 28 pubs closing every week there is still much more that needs to be done to protect pubs but it is heartening to see that the desire and drive to save pubs is something which is clearly there amongst the pub-going public."

the old crown
Success story: The Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket. (Check bottom for credit)

One example of a thriving community-owned pub cited in the press release is the Norton Community Pub in the "tiny" village of Cold Norton in Essex.

The first community pub to be included in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide, the pub was threatened with permanent closure in 2007, leading villagers to form a committee to run it and thus safeguard its future.

Shares in the pub were sold and raised over £100,000 ($166,560), more than £20,000 over the original target, with 70% of the share uptake coming from the villagers themselves and the remaining 30% from individual CAMRA members from Essex and further afield.

Then there is the Old Crown Pub in Hesket Newmarket, Cumbria, which CAMRA believes to be the first co-operative pub in the UK, having been formed back in 2003 and owned by 100 local residents.

"People say they don't care about making a return on their investment," says Julian Ross, who led the locals' bid to take over the pub.

"They want to preserve something that is important for the community."

"This is a cosy, friendly pub, which you can go into whether you're wearing your wellies, walking boots or a suit, and you won't come out without speaking to someone."

"Regulars and visitors alike always find a warm welcome, great home-cooked food (including the famous Old Crown curries), a friendly smile and a truly superb range of real ales."

Many of the recent community pub purchase came about after the pub in question had been listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), meaning that were they to be threatened with closure the local community would be notified and given a six-month period in which to raise money to buy it.

One ongoing example of this is in action is the White Swan in Charlton, South-East London.

Earlier this year, the Charlton Society, a local amenity group, applied to list the pub as an ACV after worries about its future.

At the same time, CAMRA says, Punch Taverns, the White Swan's tied pubco freeholder, put the pub up for sale at £950,000 – "clearly priced 'suitable for alternative use'".

"As Punch has recently taken to leasing pubs directly to Tesco, without the protection of ACV the property was under genuine threat of being lost forever as a pub," it continues.

"But on March 14, in a remarkably fortuitous four weeks' turnaround time, ACV was granted by Greenwich Council and now the Charlton community is considering how best to bring the pub into community ownership with a £1m fund-raising project ahead."

Well, all here at the Rake & Herald certainly wish the well in that and hope the quids come flying in.

"Pubs are at the heart of thousands of villages and towns across the country providing an essential place for millions of people to get together, [which] is why campaigns such as CAMRA's Community Pubs Month is vital in getting people to go to their local," says Community Pubs Minister Brandon Lewis.

"The government is also playing its part to support the local pub by abolishing the last government's cider tax, cutting red tape on live music in pubs and, as the Chancellor announced in the budget, by taking another penny in tax off a pint."

"We have also given people the power to list local buildings as Assets of Community Value to protect them from sell off and so far this has included 300 pubs and I know that working with CAMRA and its members we will get that number higher still."

Indeed, CAMRA has now reached its target of getting 350 pubs listed as ACVs and is now setting its sights on adding a further 100 over the next 12 months, so "cementing pubs in their current position as the top ACV-listed buildings".

people not in a pub
Madness: These people should be in the pub. (Check bottom for credit)

Sadly, it's not all good news.

As mentioned above, further new research reveals that 38% of British adults never visit the pub while 36% of pub-goers say they visit the pub less often than they did 12 months ago.

The independent study, commissioned by CAMRA and the subject of third press release we should've run yesterday but didn't for reasons of drunkenness, also showed that 80% of pub-goers have never been communicated to by their most local pub, although 24% of these respondents said they would be encouraged to visit more often if they were informed of what events the pub had planned.

CAMRA is "also concerned" to see that the number of regular pub-goers, viz those that visit pubs once a week or more, has decreased from 24% to 15% over the last five years.

"In 2009, 27% of adults never visited pubs and in just five years this figure has increased to 38%," Valentine says.

"Many of these people (40%) state they do not use pubs because they no longer drink alcohol or have reduced the amount of alcohol they drink."

"Great community pubs are not only about enjoying alcoholic drinks."

"They are great places to relax, socialise, eat and spend time with the family."

"CAMRA and the pub industry have to work hard to get this message out and events such as Community Pubs Month will give us the platform to do this."

To this end, April's Community Pubs Month, the press release notes, "encourages pubs to organise a number of events throughout the month and try new marketing initiatives to improve their communication with their communities to drive more local trade into their pubs".

"A staggering 28 pubs close every week in Britain so it is important we all take this research seriously," Valentine continues.

"Although many pubs excel in communication, it is clear that a lot of pubs need to engage more with their local community if they want to be successful."

"Organising events that appeal to the local community and communicating what they have planned is a necessity according to this report."

"Many successful pubs send out regular communication to their community through social media, e-newsletters, press releases to the local media and leaflet drops."

"We hope Community Pubs Month will give the less experienced pub marketers the opportunity to try different communication methods in April."

CAMRA's previous pub campaigns have highlighted in the media, including "the f--king excellent Rake & Herald", my words not theirs, the important role pubs play in the community.

Pubs, CAMRA says, have "raised over £100m for charities, employ over 500,000 people and along with the brewing industry add £19bn to the economy".

"Pubs are an important part of our heritage and play a major role in many communities across Britain," Valentine states.

"We must support them before more close."

Here, here.

For a list of some of the pub-based events happening across the UK this month, have a click of this. Meanwhile, more information on Community Pubs Month can be found here.

See also It's Community Pubs Month!, posted 4/4/13; UK pub closures hit 28 a week, posted 3/3/14; and Osborne cuts beer duty again, posted 19/3/14.

Ignatius Rake
is a freelance journalist and geographer who has visited more than 70 countries on six continents. A published lyricist, he has fronted punk bands in both the UK and Poland, including the only band ever to be kicked off BBC Radio Cornwall. In 2013, he represented the UK at the Fourth Annual Smoke's Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto, coming an abysmal last and getting his arse royally whipped by Rake & Herald reader and world speedscarfing supremo Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut. He has been known to like a pint.

Picture credits

Top and thumb: The Quay and The Ship in Kingsbridge by Chris Downer.

Middle: The Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket by Vicki Deritis.

Bottom: Some people not in a pub when clearly they should be by Tscheipi.

For licensing information click the above links.

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