The British Pub is an institution which British migrants often took with them wherever they settled. One can see at least one pub being advertised in mainland European cities, (sometimes they are Irish pubs for Guinness lovers). In the country of their origin, however there is a worrying trend: Pubs are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Pubs are closing
According to research done by the Independent:
“Britain now has 13,793 fewer pubs, bars, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other licensed premises than it had three years ago. This represents a 12% contraction of the UK hospitality sector, and is more than twice the 6,400 net closures recorded in the three-year period before Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on 31 January 2020 and the onset of the Covid pandemic a few weeks later.”
Role of pubs for young people in Sevenoaks
When we moved to Sevenoaks in 1970 from Austria, I was fascinated by the pubs in lovely old buildings with old fashioned names: The Royal Oak Tap, Bricklayers Arms, Farmers, Plumbers Arms, the Railway and Bicycle next to the railway station. All these pubs are sadly in the list of pubs which have closed their doors to customers. Their names often showed that they were a place where men of various professions could come together for a pint (and a half) to relax after work. Pubs did not welcome women for a very long time and children were definitely not allowed. Due to licensing laws, they closed at certain times and stopped serving drinks after ringing a bell announcing “last orders”.
I have fond memories of my brother and sister meeting their friends in small pubs on country lanes around Seal where they played darts or table football. Once you reached a certain age, ie too old for scouts’ meetings or Sunday school, there was not much choice where young people could meet. There were parties, of course, but not many parents allowed a group of youngsters alone to enjoy themselves (often smoking and drinking to excess). In fact, I know from personal experience that party crashing was a huge problem when one heard of someone holding a party locally.
My sibling’s favourite pub is now a posh, expensive French restaurant where one has to book a table well in advance. I am sure they wouldn’t welcome ten to 20 youngsters who would have a couple of beers while playing darts (if there still is the facility available). I haven’t lived in Sevenoaks for a while and I don’t know where young people meet when they want to be in a safe place but unobserved by their parents. I won’t surmise that increased vandalism in parks could be the result of these closures.
Pubs being developed into homes
Many of the pubs were bought up by property developers as Sevenoaks house prices rose steeply. I remember that the Farmers pub put up a fight against its closure, but the plot was too valuable for the owner to keep running the pub. I was told that the profit was not great. Its closeness to the station made it a desirable location for property buyers. The Railway and Bike next to the station has been developed into a block of flats which I am sure sold like hot rolls. It’s a two minute walk to the trains which take commuters into London.
A website called Closed Pubs collates information about disappearing pubs and, for Sevenoaks, it lists 24 which have closed. For the whole of Kent, 1,867 pubs are listed as closed. I am sure this list contains many which will be sorely missed, not just by young people but by the whole community.
Kent Online reports that in Stone, near Dartford, the 230-year-old Lads of the Village pub is in danger of being closed. The landlord, who has been living there and serving the community since 1978, has been served with an eviction notice. The locals are devastated and are fighting back. Kent Online reports:
“The historic boozer has been described by regulars as ‘the heart of the village’ and landlord Sean Holland is due to celebrate 45 years at its helm on 4 July. The 80-year-old and his wife Julie have until January before they must leave the pub after reportedly being told by the private company that manages it they intend to repurpose it – by either demolishing or renovating it.”
Development and other reasons for pub closures
Apart from the above-mentioned redevelopment of pubs sitting on valuable plots, the report in the Independent quotes both Covid and Brexit as reasons for pubs being closed. In its article entitled ‘Revealed: The great Brexit pubs and clubs shutdown’, they interview business owners. Many blame persistent staff shortages since leaving the EU as the main reason they had to close.
“There are currently 142,000 unfilled jobs in the accommodation and food services sector, according to the Office for National Statistics. This represents a 6.5% job vacancy rate, which is almost 50% above pre-Brexit levels, and is the highest rate across all of the UK’s business sectors.”
Hospitality sector in UK
While the fishing industry was in the forefront during the Leave campaign, the size of the UK entertainment and hospitality industry and the impact of leaving the EU on the industry has not been mentioned. The UK’s hospitality sector is made up of approximately 143,000 businesses which employ around 1.8 million people. In 2019, the industry generated £40.4bn for the UK economy. Many of the UK’s hotels and restaurants are independently owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and most pubs and bars are small businesses employing fewer than ten people.
The Independent reports of three businesses which had to close, most of them citing increased costs and staff shortages as the deciding factors. Like in the NHS, many of the staff were made up of EU citizens. Due to the devaluation of the pound, the hostile environment leading to racist attacks and the need for work visas, thousands of staff left the UK. The EU member countries welcome them with open arms.
Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, said:
“This is happening throughout the economy … Brexit is a disaster, and increasingly people are saying so. Quite obviously we benefit immensely from access to the qualified European labour pool, and that has been denied to us, with these consequences. The quicker Britain wakes up to the interdependence of this country with Europe and finds a way of accessing the single market again, the better our economy will be.”
Sadly, for many traditional British pubs it might come too late. I hope the ‘Lads of the Village’ will not join the list of closed pubs.