As well as being the best place to enjoy alcohol responsibly in a supervised environment, local pubs play a vital role in tackling loneliness and social isolation.
CAMRA’s Friends on Tap report, by Oxford University academic Robin Dunbar, found that people who said they have a ‘local’ or those who regularly go to small community pubs have more close friends, are more satisfied with their lives and feel more embedded in their local communities than those who said they do not have a local pub.
So often our local pub is much more than a pub. Where a pub is the last facility in a rural community it can double up as a shop, post office or meeting space. Hudswell’s The George and Dragon in the Dales is Yorkshire’s first community-owned pub and gives local people the opportunity to make use of a library, local shop, free internet access and community allotments.
In urban areas too, community-owned pubs offer something over and above the norm – whether its creative space and live music at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge, or traditional pub games and a great choice of locally produced ales at the Gardeners Rest in Sheffield.
We know just how much pubs mean to the communities they serve.
So it was welcome to hear the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Labour’s Lisa Nandy, speak this week about giving communities more power to save their local if it is under threat from closure, conversion or demolition.
Nandy’s suggestion of giving communities a right, in law, to have first refusal to buy privately-owned community assets could be a gamechanger when it comes to saving pubs.
A new ‘community right to buy’ would allow a community group putting in a genuine market level bid to be granted first refusal on purchasing any registered pub buildings when they come up for sale.
This enhanced right to buy is needed rather than the existing ‘Community Right to Bid’ which currently operates. At the moment, there is no guarantee that a bid (even a genuine, market level bid) will be accepted by an asset owner.
Until communities have a legal right to buy a community asset, there will always be the problem of trying to fight off private competition for community pubs, which often comes from developers looking to turn the pub into shops or housing.
They are often more interested in maximising profit rather than doing what is best for the village or neighbourhood the pub serves.
Lisa Nandy also proposed a new right for communities to force a sale of an abandoned building or one that has been left to fall into disrepair – and a 12-month period to raise the funds to buy it.
This would also benefit communities looking to restore life into pubs that have closed for some time.
CAMRA’s statistics show that in 2021, 29 pubs in Yorkshire and the Humber region closed for good with a further 55 long-term closures where the building is still a pub but the business hasn’t re-opened after the pandemic.
Our figures released earlier this year showed that across Great Britain, 290 pubs were demolished or converted to another use last year. That’s an average of just over five a week.
While there was an increase in the number of new pubs being built, or existing buildings being converted into pubs, more than 500 were unfortunately also classed as a long-term closure in 2021.
Too many great local pubs have been lost as developers turn them into houses, flats, supermarkets or takeaways.
As we recover from the impact that Covid had on the industry, it is more important than ever that we save our pubs as community hubs and a vital part of our nation’s social fabric.
As well as introducing these new rights in law, the Government should also commit to a new, pub-saving programme to make sure that all communities can get the advice, support and funding to save their local and take it on as a community-owned pub.
This should include pre-project advice, access to varied funding programmes, help to build capacity within communities in order to successfully run a local pub as a community-owned business, and tailored support for urban communities looking to take over their local as a community-owned pub.
CAMRA members and branches already work with local people and community groups to support efforts to save treasured pubs so they can continue to play their part at the heart of community life.
But with a new community right to buy treasured assets like the local pub, communities would be in a much stronger position to be able to save the building and keep it as a pub, with all the benefits that brings.
Of course, not every pub can be saved. Not every community wants to, or is able to, save each and every pub under threat – but it is vital that local people are given the powers, tools and opportunities to save their local pub and take it into community ownership where there is an appetite to do so.
Bringing in a right to buy privately-owned assets of community value would be a huge step forward in empowering local people to save what is often the most treasured part of a community: the local pub.
- Kevin Keaveny is Regional Director for Yorkshire at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).