For generations, pubs were at the heart of our communities, found on street corners in urban areas and in every village. Whilst some continue to thrive, and new ones are being built, responding to changing consumer habits and demand for family-friendly outlets, others have closed or been demolished. Many have found alternative uses as popular neighbourhood shops for Tesco and Sainsbury’s, creating local jobs.
Rural pubs have also often reinvented themselves, combining good food and drink with the sale of local produce and post office services, and even providing a home for cricket and other sports clubs; residents have also worked together to save them with community funding schemes.
Regrettably, however, there is no longer a need for a pub on every corner, when people have so many different options available to them. Some are simply in the wrong place because businesses or industry have moved, or they have failed to adapt and face strong competition from nearby hostelries which provide what their customers actually want, whether a mini-brewery, televised sport, comedy club or just good food and friendly service.
But, all too often ‘politics’ gets in the way of finding the right solutions, especially at election time, when – in the absence of any genuine issues demanding their attention – redundant pubs facing closure are the subject of candidates’ campaigns to keep them open, despite being dingy, financially unviable and not having a customer base!
Sadly, the impetus is inevitably lost immediately after the election but such interference frequently means that hundreds of former pubs end up as boarded up eyesores vulnerable to vandals and arsonists.
Usually in very prominent locations, many are Listed buildings on good sized plots, or in Conservation Areas, and their deteriorating condition is detrimental not only to their immediate neighbourhood, but signals a lack of interest and responsibility within their local authorities. Instead of allowing these important buildings to fall into disrepair adding to the general neglect of an area, there are many instances where enforcement action – and even compulsory purchase – would be wholly justifiable.
They deserve to be saved and alternative uses encouraged, but this requires planning officers to be flexible and sympathetic to alterations and extensions which they would normally decree as ‘unsuitable’. Good design which respects the original building can reinvigorate it whilst also encouraging investment elsewhere in the locality; creative use of glass to link the old and the new can be very successful and is certainly preferable to the total loss of a piece of ancient history.
Change of use to residential, offices or retail, are lifelines. Local authorities could offer grants, or point interested parties towards the Local Enterprise Partnerships and their various funding streams. Social enterprises should be encouraged, creating training opportunities for young people or hubs for budding entrepreneurs developing their own new businesses. Art studios, to showcase local talent, cafes or facilities for ‘bake-off’ amateurs to create and sell their produce; they can even find a new use as fast food outlets.
There are endless possibilities to regenerate these buildings and improve run-down areas, but local authorities – and, in particular, local councillors – have to take the lead. It’s their job to listen to residents, get their ideas, and support them. No-one wants to live next to a rat-infested wreck. So stop ignoring the problem, and do something – even if that ultimately means demolition!
All the pubs pictured have been closed for nearly a decade, and are a small sample of what is available in the Ipswich area alone:
The Boot at Freston, near Ipswich is Listed Grade II (above right). Formerly, a popular food destination, it stands in generous grounds which could be developed (alongside the pub) to provide a variety of housing to meet local needs.
The Old Bell, Ipswich. Listed Grade II, (above left) it has permission for various uses, from dental surgery to funeral parlour. Prominently located at one of the main gateways into the town, it is one of several sites around the Waterfront which desperately need investment.
The Crown, Ipswich. (right) One of a number of similar 1930’s hostelries built for the now defunct Tolly Cobbold brewery; located in a good mixed residential area, the site has planning consent for housing.