Public houses in the heart of rural communities are being lost at an alarming rate, according to the latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale.
For residents in the heart of the countryside, the village pub has long been their social epicentre, but the survival of these institutions is under threat, with CAMRA’s research revealing that nine rural pubs close in the UK every week.
While pubs everywhere are feeling the pinch, the loss of a rural pub can have more significant consequences, said CAMRA spokesman Neil Walker.
“Pubs are closing at an alarming rate in all areas, but where the loss of a pub can often have the biggest impact is in the small rural towns and villages around the UK. For communities who see the last pub in their village close the loss can be a very personal one and we would encourage people to use their local more often, or risk it not being there in the future.”
Not enough people are supporting their local, CAMRA says. Its latest research finds that 38 per cent of British adults never visit the pub and over a third (36 per cent) of those who do use their local now visit less often than they did 12 months ago.
Changing social behaviour, running costs and supermarket competition are blamed by those in the trade.
Stephen Cock, landlord of The Royal Oak Inn in the North Yorkshire village of Dacre Banks near Pateley Bridge, says his pub is struggling to operate under the weight of business rates.
“We are a small, family-owned and run, genuinely free, village inn providing real ale, good food and three letting rooms.
“We have recently received our business rates demand for the year April 2014 to March 2015 which have increased again by £250 per month. We now pay £1,253 per month. For a small rural village inn this is a vast amount to pay in business rates.
“I presume our business rates are based on the good years before the recession which I think for some reason has made us a medium-sized business so we lost the rural and small business relief we used to get which reduced our business rates by about 50 per cent and was a great help.
“We employ four local full-time staff, have just taken on one apprentice chef and employ a few local part-time bar and waiting-on staff, not to mention all the local tradesmen we use for the upkeep of the building. How can we be classed as a medium-sized business and get no rate relief and no help at all?”
There has been salvation for some village pubs. The George and the Dragon, the only pub in the village of Hudswell, closed in 2008 when its former landlords were declared bankrupt but residents formed a Co-operative for Community Benefit and raised the funds to acquire the premises in 2010.
Jackie Stubbs, who now runs the pub with her mother Margaret, says people are less motivated to socialise outside of their home these days, while people moving out of the countryside to pursue jobs in towns also makes trade challenging.
“The country pub is vital but unfortunately a lot of places in the Dales are becoming holiday resorts because there is no work for local people in the countryside. We are also battling against the iPad and today’s in-house entertainment. You don’t have to go out to socialise anymore. But, you can’t recreate the atmosphere of a pub in your living room.”