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Monday, October 09, 2017

This Day Last Year I was doing research for the Brown Bear in Berwick-upon-Tweed

THIS day last year I was doing research for Berwick Brown Bear and met Jim Herbert down the Barrels Ale House. We got the Brown Bear open on 8 December.


It's been an interesting year. Brown Bear - set up as a not for profit social enterprise. Living Wage Foundation accredited. CAMRA LocAle awarded from January 2017. Serendipitously Roger Protz visited the pub the day after we opened during the final leg of research for his book Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road and wrote a sypathetic piece about this ex tied pub's revival as a modern free house.

And we've had some very good press since - see below. There is much still to do - a year is but a fleeting moment in the timeline of Great British Pub History -

We have convened an advisory board of local stakeholders which includes representatives of Berwick Slow Food Association and Berwick Film Festival and the Anglican Church. We are now getting support from Plunkett Foundation and applying to the More Than A Pub programme. Martin Booth, committee member at the George and Dragon Hudswell (CAMRA pub of the year 2016) is helping us with our Action Plan. Dave Hollings has helped with some excellent input in the background. Damon Horrill is sharing the exciting multi stakeholder cooperative business model he's developing around the Cornerstone Inns group. MANY other people have been supporting the pub in many ways - not just in being customers - and we have recently got a grant from Berwick Community Trust wind turbine core legacy fund to pay for a thorough environmental audit of the building and adjacent outhouses so we have accurate data for energy consumption and a detailed report on how to reduce the business's carbon footprint and a plan for making the property #FossilFuelFree in the relative near future.


Around all of this the marvellous Jim Herbert, historian and Quiz Master extraordinaire has been researching the pub's history... and has published a book called 'A Brief History of Opening Time ... the story of the Brown Bear'

The Brown Bear is definitely coming out of hibernation from a dormant period that threatened to end the pub's literally iconic life at the heart of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The next chapters of the Brown Bear's history are being made as we eat and drink


Monday, October 02, 2017

LIVING NORTH. LOCAL HEROES - the Berwick Brown Bear has come out of hibernation

LIVING NORTH LOCAL HEROES August 2017

Been busy since my last post in May 2016 - there has been a lot happening - got a pub underway...

article by Tom Nicholson August 2017
A good local pub is the heart, brain and soul of a community – and they’re vanishing across the country. However, co-operative, community-run pubs like the Brown Bear in Berwick are trying to turn the tide 


A good local pub,’ William Blake once said, ‘has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer, and there’s more conversation.’ You can see what he was getting at there: every truly good pub has that in-built sense of communality and shared experience, and of being the setting for celebrating and commiserating over all of the major plot points in your life. That bad break-up, your 18th birthday, that lazy Sunday afternoon that accidentally turned into the best session you ever had: in short, pubs are where much of the actual business of living – the fun bits, the human bits – happen.
But more and more pubs are dying every day in Britain. Between 2006 and 2016, we lost a fifth of all the pubs in this country – more than 20,000 – and last year more than 1,200 shut their doors for good. Many blame the influence of big pub companies (PubCos, as they’re known) for buying up pubs, charging wildly overinflated rents and underinvesting in the pubs themselves. Others blame beer duties and the rise of the coffee shop. Whatever it is, the upshot is that we’re losing a chunk of the nation’s soul every day.
Now, though, more and more groups of ordinary people are taking matters into their own hands, and returning pubs to their original purpose as the original social network. The Brown Bear in Berwick is a case in point. It was ‘really rundown,’ says Mark Dodds, the man who’s has taken the project on. The pub had been empty for two years when he arrived, and even before then it hadn’t been particularly handsome. Mark, who grew up in Newcastle and Morpeth, sees good pubs not just as the heart of the community but as the brain too, forging connections and sharing knowledge. ‘Without decent local pubs communities have nowhere to express themselves, exchange local information – they lose the glue to their community.’
After a quick ‘Changing Rooms-style’ refit and refurb, Mark and his team reopened the Brown Bear in December. Initially, the reaction was surprisingly hostile. While Mark points out The Curfew micropub and The Barrels as pubs doing things properly in Berwick, he thinks the PubCos’ influence runs deep.
‘It’s become pretty clear to me that the PubCos have had such a huge impact on this area for such a long time that all the pubs are so bad, and have been so bad for so long – bar the few small places I mentioned earlier – that people have grown up using pubs differently to the way I expect people to use pubs. They go to pubs to get slaughtered, they expect there to be very cheap lager, they’re not particularly interested in ale or anything of quality, just sessionable stuff. And they expect the pubs to be unattractive. It’s bizarre. It’s dystopian. In all honesty, it’s frightening.’
Mark knows he’s up against it. ’Berwick has lost, as a community, the memory of what it means to socialise in pubs for the reasons that we culturally understand pubs have value for,’ he says. The vision for the new Brown Bear is to be a multi-stakeholder co-operative that’s woven deeply into the fabric of the community, a sustainable social enterprise that can support satisfying long-term careers for staff. They’ve got support from Thistly Cross, Hadrian Border and Cross Borders breweries, 12 founder investors have put in about £60,000 so far, and local professionals are providing pro bono services. Fundamentally, it’s all about ‘doing what the people who use the pub want’.
They’ve got to feel ‘a sense of ownership of the pub’, Mark says, ‘that they’ve got an investment in something that is important, that does have cultural and traditional significance.’ From there, you get a virtuous circle of loyalty, emotional investment, and a renewal of a social hub that lasts.
By way of an example, Mark remembers a Sunday morning on the bar at a community pub he ran in Camberwell. His friend, a regular called Jes, came up to the bar looking grave. ‘I was in your beer garden last night, and I met my bloody next-door neighbour,’ he told Mark. Slightly taken aback, Mark asked him what he was on about. ‘We’ve lived next door to each other for seven years, and we’d never met before,’ Jes replied. ‘That’s what your pub has done for this community.’
That’s what Mark wants the Brown Bear to do too, so the front room of the flat above the bar has been turned into a free meeting space for community groups. Some of the first tenants were the organisers of the Riding of the Bounds, the traditional horse-ride which mark the boundaries of England and Scotland which goes back nearly 600 years, which Mark sees as pretty apt.
‘I think that, metaphorically, is what pubs are all about: history, richness of culture and tradition,’ he says. ‘Pubs are a great place to let that be expressed.’
Long-term, the plan is to keep doing up the Brown Bear, put on events to showcase the area’s food producers in the yard behind the pub, and start putting together a pseudo-chain of community pubs like the Brown Bear – a co-operative of co-operatives – which can support each other and their staff. But can it really work? After all, while the co-operative model is a noble and exciting idea, only 10 opened last year. That’s still a net loss of about 1,190.
‘It is idealistic,’ Mark admits. ‘It’s also feasible. It’s been done, around the country and around the world.’

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

OH the memories...

IN 2009, which seems like Back in the Day when it comes to Pubs and what's been happening to them, Nicky Francey was on the front cover of the national catering industry magazine Caterer and Hotelkeeper The Caterer >< this article came a year after Nicky co-founded the Fair Pint Campaign with Gill Morris, me, Steve Corbett, Dave Law, Simon Clarke - Mike Bell, Brian Jacobs, David Morgan and a handful of other shadowy people who stood to benefit personally in very self serving ways (as Ted Tuppen, the lying cheating double dealing CEO of Enterprise Inns, characterised almost bankrupt penniless people like us voluntarily fighting for freedom and fairness while Tuppen himself was trousering over a million a year in performance related bonuses on top of his million a year salary for rapaciously asset stripping British villages, towns, city centres, communities, our unique culture, our traditions and the very essence of Britain's own particular secular Sense of Place).



Mind you, to be fair to Ted the Shred he wasn't alone in the private equity feeding frenzy that's been devouring the best of Britishness since the advent of Thatcher's inspired 1989 Beer Orders and the invention of that truly ironically British thing: 'The non-brewing pub companies' companies who hate beer and pubs and people but love high ROI - or: Money For Doing Nowt... Into the naughty corner with Ted go Punch Taverns, Star Pubs and Bars (formerly Scottish & Newcastle Pub Company) owned by Heineken (yes, they are all at it), Admiral Taverns, Marston's and Greene King. Brutal bastards every last one of them when it comes to tied pubs they own, along with dozens of smaller bottom feeders such as Hawthorn Leisure and New River Retail, companies pretending to have an interest in pubs but DESIGNED to render pubs into alternative assets. Ie: cash to make their owners and directors even more fat and LOADED than when they borrowed OPM to set up their asset stripping vehicles.

What has changed in that time? Our work led to the implementation of the Pubs Code in 2017... but materially, nothing much has progressed. Ted Tuppen retired.

The pubco's continue to asset strip our heritage to the point of 1,200 pubs flogged off for alternative use every year.

Nicky and I lost our jobs running the Sun and Doves (each earning less than £100 a week while paying over £1,200 a week rent, £575 a week business rates, over £1000 a week more for beer than if we had been free of tie for working 70+ hours and employing up to 15 people.

I was evicted from the pub and was homeless for three years.

The pubco lost around £1,500,000 while our customers' pub was closed for 14 months.

The Pubs Code came into place last July after ten years' of agitation and wrangling.

Campaign for Real Ale turned native and pulled out of pressurising the government to outlaw the practices of beer tie abusing pubcos and brewers.

I moved out of the family home. My sons became teenagers.

Nicky and I became life partners rather than business partners.

I did a PhD equivalent on research into the #GreatBritishPubcoScam have been on committee of several community pub campaigns - have been to countless marches and protests about pubs. Have helped with campaigning.

Nicky started a new successful career outside of the pub sector (OBVS) in high profile restaurants - straight from being a failed publican to the sit back and relax thrust of central London high end catering.

And we both invested in Berwick Brown Bear to be proof of principle for the People's Pub Partnership which is another step on the route to proving the existence of pubco's has seriously damaged Britain's natural human history timeline.

Fair Pint
Protect Pubs
British Pub Confederation
Peoples Pub Partnership
Ted Tuppen (Cultural Criminal)

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Status Quo Stands as CAMRA's silence in effect backs a wrongun while blocking all pub sector reform ...

Greg Mulholland caused a stir when he published his open letter to CAMRA members on the first day of CAMRA's 2017 AGM since when internal CAMRA memos have threatened a lawsuit - this response is a measure of their upset and simply indicates how remote, haughty and up their own arses CAMRA HQ are since everything Mulholland said is BANG ON THE MONEY and CAMRA is guilty as charged.

I've worked on campaigns with CAMRA HQ since 2007 when I co founded the Fair Pint Campaign with Steve Corbett , Nicky Francey, Dave Law, Simon Clarke Brian Jacobs, David Morgan and a handful of others - I've literally sat at the table when CAMRA HQ has backed out of the battle to save pubs from pubco asset stripping ... in some disbelief we've all been WAY too polite to CAMRA HQ in private and WAY too quiet in public because we hoped we could win them round ... this happened BEFORE Tim Page was appointed but SINCE he was briefed for the job of CEO they've simply edged further away from the URGENT ISSUE of the end of pubs and distanced themselves from people who are vociferous about #GreatBritishPubcoScam

The 'revitalisation project' is part of the evidence. There was no need for it anyway - where CAMRA should be going is bleeding obvious - what is fine delicious idiosyncratic ale without fine delicious idiosyncratic pubs to drink it in while sharing it with friends or family? CAMRA saved ALE now it should be saving the natural home of ale - the Public House. What happened to 'revitalisation'? It ground to a halt. Why? Internal wrangling and stubborn refusal by some part of the edifice to take a stand against private equity ransacking British culture... What a load of nonsense. What better reminder of the meddling in the background could there be than this?

My take on the situation has been this - as below - for years. I've been discouraged by close friends from saying any of it in public... in case CAMRA responded badly.

The Campaign for Real Ale has a serious problem... CAMRA's refusal to take a stand on pubco reform is damaging communities and the fabric of social well-being of every part of Britain - nowhere, no community anywhere, is free of the blight of the pubco hegemony that has been asset stripping Britain's genuinely unique social and cultural heritage, timeless traditions and our very Sense of Place by running down and rendering OUR Public Houses to alternative use on industrial scale for the last 25 years. No person in Britain is unaffected by the loss of local amenities and services supplied by well run Pubs, the secular meeting places that were the core, the foundations of humanity's original social network...

When it comes to pubs and beer CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is the ONLY 'independent' body in the UK with enough clout to make any impact on the status quo in the British Pub sector. Newspapers, television and government all listen to CAMRA yet since 2014 CAMRA HQ has been silent on the fate of pubs in the hands of tied pubcos.

CAMRA HQ's refusal to be drawn into stating a position on pubco reform and most recently the appointment of a totally compromised Pubs Code Adjudicator is tantamount to support for a Tied Pubco Hegemony that has been asset stripping Britain of OUR pubs on an industrial scale. CAMRA's position is fundamentally deleterious to the health of the British pub sector. Thousands of communities have been damaged permanently by their local pub closing forever. Time, history, will prove that the true costs of pub closures to the UK's fundamental social fabric are so costly as to be incalculable in conventional financial terms.

Until November 2014 CAMRA was a key member of the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign coalition that was instrumental to bringing the Pubs Code into law. Then, while celebrating backslapping themselves 'our job is done' while another two years' government imposed 'consultation' on the Code lay ahead CAMRA dropped pubco reform like a hot potato - we do not know why - it was just as if CAMRA were a carpenter who'd been hanging a door and left it with only one hinge in place.

Since 2014 CAMRA's absence of a position on pubco reform has in effect endorsed pubco's continued asset stripping of British pubs everywhere and with the appointment of a director of Fleurets the pubco's estate agent of choice - Paul Newby - as Pubs Code Adjudicator CAMRA's silence has pretty much rubber stamped the hiring of a very serious 'wrongun' to police abuse of the tied pub sector.

CAMRA's negligence in the matter is quite frankly unbelievable. All over Britain at Regional and Local level hundreds of well informed CAMRA members, particularly local Pub Protection Officers, while remaining loyal to CAMRA's founding ethos, are dismayed, disappointed and distressed by what they regard unequivocally to be HQ's negligence towards pubs' protection. Internally they are highly critical of CAMRA HQ's refusal to get down and dirty where they need to be on attacking pubco's shockingly delinquent behaviour toward OUR national pub stock, and the thousands of tenants whose lives they ruin while extracting all the profit from the supply chain which they use to pay interest on the gargantuan loans the pubcos raised to buy 'their' (OUR) pubs in the first place...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Mirror is NOT a Crystal Ball... You couldn't make it up.

I've been busy since my last post... got a pub up and running in Berwick-upon-Tweed it's been FULL ON for for the last four months, barely a day off, and learned a lot about the Edge of England but more of that later.

What gets my goat and everything else right this moment is this flagged up in my 'community pub' news alerts:



Irony abounds in the Tied Pub Sector ...

The Mirror; whose affable and accessible Kevin Maguire told me face to face in Strangers' Bar at House of Commons he'd be interested in doing an expose of the #GreatBritishPubcoScam - 'we do a lot on pubs' 'send me what you've got' passing card in my direction - never get a response; The Mirror teams up with Admiral Taverns one of the arch white collar criminals of the pub sector, well of Britain, - owned by Cerberus a US based private equity asset stripping vehicle specialising in converting British pubs into cash and ruining the lives of hundreds of publicans and their families - and the communities they hoped to serve when signing a toxic tied lease - OH KEV the joy of being important and distant from the public interface of a pub shop floor. SEE HERE:
The National Pub Quiz is a marketing push for Admiral Taverns, nothing more nor less. Tap in the participating pub (exclusively Admiral bonded) in my case (from TD15 1EQ Berwick-upon-Tweed) and my nearest pub is fifty miles away in my home town of Morpeth and it's called?
THE TRAP
Main Street
Morpeth
Alnwick
Northumberland
NE65 9UT
You couldn't make it up. FFS thanks Kev.

Anyway, while Kev is entertaining people at his leisure - I'm off in a few hours to Birmingham to stand alongside my colleagues from the Pubs Advisory Service, Fair Pint and other fine folk who have been demanding FREEDOM and FAIRNESS (a non tucked up free market) in the Tied Pub Sector for a DECADE ... We're off to stand outside the Pubs Code Adjudicator's office to protest that the placeman who took the job (he was headhunted by the government) is CONFLICTED 

Until he took up this policing role for ensuring fairness and the tied tenant should be no worse off than the free of tie (the 'Prime Principle') Newby was long standing (20yrs) senior director at Fleurets 'The UK’s leading leisure property specialist' or a leading gatekeeper into the tied pub sector. He resigned his directorship but still owns shares and a director's debenture, or loan, or somesuch, valued around £230K - by their own admission 20% of Fleurets' business is in pubs... leases, sales, recruiting tied tenants for the furnaces of pubco hell... IF Newby does his job right and the pubco's don't like it - any dip in their using Fleurets means he may never get his money back.

No conflict there. Eh?




Saturday, October 15, 2016

Chuck Berry, godfather of Desert Trip, turning 90 without fanfare

Chuck Berry, godfather of Desert Trip, turning 90 without fanfare

Yay!

Hail Hail Rock n Roll
Thirty years ago I was GM at Legends in Old Burlington Street, Mayfair and organised the London opening night party for 'Hail Hail Rock n Roll' the Taylor Hackford film documentary made to commemorate Chuck Berry's 60th birthday.

By and Large, 'stars' don't get involved much in organising parties, instead someone from their management company does the tedium of planning how the big night will go, who'll be invited and what they're gonna be fed and watered with.

 Legends club, Mayfair
Legends
So here I sorted the spread for four hundred glamorous people and hangers on. When you do catering professionally all this kind of stuff is pretty pedestrian really, your job is to make sure a load of people have a great time enjoying themselves without being distracted by the delivery of the event. Your job is about managing your clients' expectations while translating their ideas into a workable smoothly delivered event. You get to have to deal with lots of ego and bollocks as every client is fragile and precious and special in their own different way. To be fair, some people just say 'we've got a party for X and there's going to be x number of people and we've got x amount of quids can you do something nice?' They are the BEST clients and always get the BEST deal and have the BEST time AND they usually go out of their way to say so to you and the staff who made it all happen...

This event organiser was particularly picky about every last detail of a reality which was they wanted four hundred people to be meticulously attentively looked after when the reality was the club's limit on number was 420 and 400 fans of Chuck Berry would be hanging out in a huddle waiting for the great man himself, little bothered with the elegance of the finger food and champagne flutes... Chuck's fussy food demands and fear of offending his taste seemed high on the agenda of his management company's events organiser. Basically, I knew we'd deliver a great time, the party would go down a treat with everyone and Mr Berry would likely enjoy himself but the organiser's unfounded fears made the whole thing a right pain in the arse.

So. On the night of the party I, being God of the club, got an invite to the film premier. I went with a mate who'd also got an invite and we arrived at the cinema to a red carpet and the press pack flashing us walking in and sat in the same row as Chuck, three seats along with my mate Richard Watt to my left, him next to Mick Hucknall who, another whole story aside Watty and I were at art school with, and him sitting next to Chuck Berry.

A couple of hours later we arrived at my club for the big fabulous wonderful carefully crafted and planned party laid out in honour of the great man and Chuck Berry turned round just after we squeezed into the throng through reception and said 'Hey Mark, is there a good Indian takeaway nearby? Can we get one delivered?' Actually, I think he called the curry a 'carry out' and I was completely confused initially because: 'can we get an Indian carry out and have it delivered?' surely was the last thing on earth i'd ever expect to hear coming from the mouth of any American abroad in the UK let alone in a swanky West End nightclub when there was a couple of grands' worth of canapes and champagne on tap ... You know; I heard the words but the synapses just couldn't process what was coming into the ears.

Curry for fifteen was duly ordered and one of the doormen went and got it, Chuck and his closest entourage ate in private in the mezzanine...

What a man. :)

shot from 1987 editorial for the club. photo J Mark Dodds  Ricardo Ostaccini is the bartender

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A SHORT STORY about the power of people working together against all odds.

A SHORT STORY about the power of people working together against all odds.


James Watson is one of Protect Pubs' founders. James is an ordinary bloke who likes a beer. Yet James is also a #PubHero He is in large part responsible for the campaign that led to a closed 'suitable for alternative use' local pub being saved from inevitable conversion into housing.



Like all stories about pubs, it is a long one; James may put more bones on but basically the pub suddenly closed and was a goner, sold to a developer for a ridiculous figure who immediately boarded it up and made plans to turn it into residential... Locals came together and worked their socks off for a couple of years and against ALL odds, made a miracle happen. Eventually the predatory developer had to give up and re-let the pub as a pub and the Chesham Arms eventually reopened again, completely refurbished in part BY the community, in 2015.

ONLY A YEAR LATER IT WON EAST LONDON PUB OF THE YEAR!
Chesham Arms East London Pub of the Year 2016 26/02/16# Some pics of the evening

James is a senior, highly trained and experienced electrical engineer. The principal responsibility of his metier translates modestly to:

'It's my job to make sure London's lights stay ON'.

To put this into context James' work involves fiddling with cables thicker than a telegraph pole and switches bigger than a domestic oven.


James' wide ranging non-professional interests take in photography, the collection of, playing and listening to vinyl recordings on high quality very high fidelity equipment. He's a sociable person who loves very well kept ale and everything it goes with, including pies; so he's been a CAMRA member for some time, and he and wife Sarah enjoy visiting pubs wherever they go, to get a feel for the locality and the offchance of meeting people and getting to know more ...

He and Sarah Watson (who created the Protect Pubs' website) lived in Poplar for some years. James noticed that ALL the local pubs were closing and became concerned that without pubs there was nowhere for he and Sarah to meet people in their neighbourhood and saw that without pubs there was no way to sustain the traditional weft and warp of local community, no way that people who don't know each other can meet and glue together socially and this became a great concern.

James began looking into this and began to come across others, similarly concerned; people like all of us in Protect Pubs, people who are, for all manner of reasons, alerted to the very serious deleterious multiple impacts each pub closure represents to its own community, as local social networks rapidly fray and to the fabric of wider society and to the very foundations of Britain's unique Sense of Place. That bit of Britain that peculiarly defines US to the rest of the world...

When The Chesham Arms, HIS Local, closed James got together with neighbours and then mobilised parts of the wider local community. Together they arrested the inevitable and put the pub's history back on track... They made history.

IMAGINE what WE, all of us in Protect Pubs, thousands of us, can do together. We can make history on a much bigger scale. All we need do is work together...

First thing we can all do is send emails to Government and demand that Permitted Development Rights be removed from Pubs' planning class... Might put a template below here.

https://goo.gl/photos/Pit7SSfWJb6duVKDA