If we don’t use they we’ll lose them – and embracing the community is key to success for our village pubs.
Those were two important messages when Beer campaigner CAMRA joined three well known local licencees at the latest Doncaster Free Press round table, held at The Poacher, in Rossington, to discuss the problems our pubs are facing and how they can thrive.
Our panel was Alison Harper, licensee, The Poacher; Jackie Bailey, licensee, the Magdalen, Masons, Rum Rooms, and, Ian Blaylock, brewer and licensee, the Doncaster Brewery and Tap; and Ian Round, vice chairman, Doncaster CAMRA.
In part two of our report, looking at village locals, issues again included the ‘tied house’ system, restricting tenant licensees to only buying drinks from the pub companies from whom they rent the venue, so the licensee is ‘tied’ to the company for its drinks supply
Free Press community engagement editor David Kessen chaired the discussion.
What can we do to help the pubs outside the town centre?
Alison Harper: “Fishlake has just lost one. The Old Anchor is being pulled down on built on from what I hear.”
Ian Round: “And I heard the guys that ran the Castle were taking on the Hare and Hound in Fishlake.”
Ian Blaylock: “Although we do it in the centre of town, we seem to be more of a community venue, like a community centre and I think that is possibly one of the things that pubs in outlying areas have lost. It’s that community knit. People don’t even look at their neighbours any more, never mind talk to them and make sure that they’re all right.
IR: “I think a lot of pubs on the outskirts rely on food operations as a draw for people to go there. But sometimes you get something totally different. The Jemmy Hirst at the Rose and Crown at Rawcliffe doesn’t do food, but they’ve got five or six handpumps on and they’re not even on the main road through the village. The Crown at Belton is the same. Its got about six hand pumps but doesn’t do food and as you went through Belton, you wouldn’t know it was there, its tucked away near the church.
IB: “Another interesting thing about the Jemmy Hirst is the opening hours. They weren’t open during the day, just the evenings, I think its just been sold
IR: “The Jemmy Hirst at Rawcliffe was a pub at risk. It was on the market for six or seven years because the couple who owned it wanted to retire, but they wouldn’t just let it go to anyone. Finally, they had to bite the bullet and say that’s it. They tried to get a community buy-out going but that’s difficult to do, to get people to invest money. At the 11th hour, a couple came along and said they’d have it as a going concern and the pub’s been saved for the time being.”
AH: “People don’t want a pub any more because the don’t think there’s any money in it. When my dad was a licencee he would be dressed every night in a shirt and tie, mum was dressed up to the nines. They didn’t have to go behind the bar. Now you have to roll your sleeves up. I’ve done the cleaning this morning.I only have the cleaner in on the weekend.”
What is the secret of success for a pub on the outskirts?
Jackie Bailey: “It’s about what you’re offering that no one else is. I think its about trying to create the community spirit,. You’re part of this community if you come in.”
AH: “I’m on the parish council, so people who need to see me come in and have a drink. I think that’s an advantage. Also, if they want to raise money for anything they know I’ll let them have a room for nothing and help them as best I can.”
IR: “There are some pubs in remote villages who have tried to make the pub the hub, with grocery shops in them, post offices, and that is bound to help, even libraries.”
AH: “I’ve thought of having a shop in here but we’ve got good shops locally. Wadworth had the post office in the White Hart, I believe.”
“I think traditionally, all the landlords knew each other and helped each other but no one knows who they are any more, because we work so much in our pubs we don’t get time to visit others.
JB: “We only came into this business in 2012, before that we did completely different careers. The people who we found most helpful were the old school people who are now not there. They’ve all retired now. It wasn’t ‘you’re competition, we won’t help you’. They were very supportive and would tell you the pitfalls, what would work and what wouldn’t. I was thinking of starting a group to share good practice, not necessarily for just pubs but all busineses, and if we could get together and share good practice. People seem reluctant to get together.
AH: I think in town there are lot of pop-up bars, which open, and then close down again
JB: Another side of the coin is that you get known names like Weatherspoons and Slug and Lettuce coming in. We on the outside trying to create something different think why do you want to go there?
IR: It’s the confidence and comfort that you get from the brand. You know what you’re getting
IB: We have nothing mainstream on our bar. People come in and for a pint of John Smith. Or Lager. With say we’ve not got them. They ask if we’ve got any proper drinks and we say six traditional cask beers, cask ciders, a bottle fridge and cellar with 200 lines. If you can’t find anything that suits your pallette other than John Smiths you’re in the wrong place.
JB: I think you need to have the courage of stick to the identity that you create. A lot come in and try to be something for everyone. I don’t think that ever works. I think you should stick to you guns and do what you know, and the product is superb. If you want a particular customer in you must not provide the product that brings people you don’t want in.”
What do Doncaster’s pubs do well?
JB: “I think we offer variety, and the good pubs offer good customer service. That’s paramount. If you don’t make your customer feel amazing you’ve not done your job.”
IR: “I think the real ales have improved a lot, as a CAMRA member. Getting hand pulled beer at all was a struggle in the 60s.”
JB: “I think we’re good at thinking ahead of the times. We’re brave enough to stick to our guns and try to introduce things.
“Its knowing your customers and knowing what they want. Its that community spirit knowing you customers.”
IR. “There are pubs that co-operate well, helping each other. You look at places like the Plough and the Corner Pin helping with each others beer festivals.
IB: “We direct people too. We’re not afraid of people coming in, having a drink, and going somewhere else. They come in, you ask them what their plan is, and you say don’t miss out certain places.”
JB: I’ve said in forums that I don’t think there are enough signposts directing people in the town centre. I think they just assume that people in town know where everything is. If you get off a train, in a place you’ve never been to, you need telling where to go.
IB: On football matchday we get a handful of home football fans. They know where to go, and we’ve only been here for six years. But we’re inundated with away fans. They do their research and work out a route they’re going to take town the road. We’re often the last port of call, as they’ve found us.”
What would be the best thing the authorities could do to help pubs?
IB: “The Government needs to look at beer duty and the Portman group, the trade group of alcoholic beverage producers and brewers in the UK, need to look at supermarkets using drinks as loss leaders. I don’t believe drinking problems are caused by pubs, they’re caused by lack of regulation and drinking at home, rather than being in a pub run by a licencee, who has a piece of paper that says they’re a responsible alcohol retailer, can say, no, I’m sorry, you’ve had enough.”
IR: “Doormen should be looking at that too.”
IB: “Regulation of supermarkets and alcohol retailing would help.”
JB: “We are the responsible retailers who stop you drinking too much.”
IR: “Governments have tried to do something about the tie to pub companies,but there’s always a loophole. If they could find some way of licencees being able to get what their customers want without being penalised financially, i think that would be a help.”
AH: “I think we were better off when there was Whitbread, Stones, Bass, and you had to be really good at your job to be a manager of one of those pubs. But when they wanted to make it so that you could sell any product from a pub, they all sold up. It was ‘why should we brew our beer and put it in to sell someone else’s?’”
JB: “Business rates can be a killer. They should do something about that.”
IB: “Reliable public transport would help.”
What is there to be optimistic about?
IB: “The future. That’s very bright. Money is being spent on the town and we’re trying to engage more people in coming into the town. Hopefully the changes and the new street scene will create a more vibrant atmosphere and more footfall. Its not just the pub industry that suffering, its town centres in general and we all need to reinvent ourselves. Doncaster is quite good at that at present. We may be a bit behind the big university cities, with their young people, but the engagement is there in Doncaster.”
JB: “I think we have to be optimistic because we’ve got some clever people in business with a lot of foresight and willing to work very hard.”
IR: “I think people are getting more investigative about the sort of things they can get and I think its something to be optimistic about that there is that interest.”
JB: “I think it is about use it or lose it. If people stop coming the pubs can’t survive with them.”