Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pubs have a role to play in the Government’s loneliness strategy

"Pubs have a role to play in the Government’s loneliness strategy"

by Mark Hailwood | 03 July 2019

"On June 17th the Government launched a new ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ campaign to mark Loneliness Awareness Week 2019, following up on the publication of its strategy for tackling loneliness last October. The Prime Minister opened that paper by highlighting that loneliness ‘is a reality for too many people in our society today’ and represents ‘one of the greatest public health challenges of our time’. That the Government has developed such a comprehensive strategy has been welcomed by campaigners and charity groups – albeit with concerns about whether it will be appropriately funded – but there is a gap at its heart. The strategy fails to recognise the vital role that pubs can and have played in facilitating social interaction.

It does recognise the importance of ‘community infrastructure that empowers social connections’ and commits to ‘help create new community spaces’ as well as ‘unlock the potential of underutilised community spaces’, but its attention here focuses on parks, schools, transport and housing. It therefore overlooks, excepting a few passing references, an institution that has for centuries acted as a community space and a hub of social connections.

Indeed, the local pub has a 500-year track record of performing many of the functions the strategy calls for. Since at least the time of the English Reformation in the sixteenth century the pub – or alehouse as it was known at the time – has been a primary space for social contact in cities, towns and villages, rivalled in importance only by the parish Church. Before the nation’s conversion to Protestantism the Church had been the hub of both spiritual and recreational activity, with leisure time concentrated around festivals that took place in and around the Church itself, and often centred on rituals of song, dance and drink.

But the new Puritan sensibilities of the Protestant reformers were hostile to this blurring of sacred and profane uses of Church space, and subsequently communal merry making was exiled from consecrated grounds. It found an alternative home in the alehouse, an institution which until that stage had largely served as an ‘off-licence’, selling ale for consumption at home, but which quickly came to adopt the mantle of the community’s principle site of sociability.

As a consequence, their number more than doubled in the century between the Reformation and the Civil Wars, peaking at c.60,000, or one alehouse to every ninety inhabitants. One in every fifteen households was now an alehouse. They had quickly become established at the heart of every community in the country.

The reason for this is the valued role they played in fostering social interactions, though historians have not always recognised this fact. Until recently, the standard explanation for this proliferation was that men traipsed off to alehouses in search of ‘narcotic oblivion’ as they sought to ‘blot out the horror of their lives’. This was a period of rising economic inequality and poverty – it witnessed the origins of the welfare state in passing of the Elizabethan poor laws – but recent historical research has demonstrated that the appeal of the alehouse was about much more than the anesthetising effects of alcohol.

Historians have moved beyond this reductionist analysis by examining what contemporaries themselves said about their reasons for frequenting alehouses. The expansion of printed products was another key development in this period, and as printers started to target a mass audience with cheap print the single-sheet broadside ballad was born. Many of these took the form of drinking songs celebrating the alehouse environment: the famous Restoration diarist Samuel Pepys had a substantial number of what he categorised as ‘drinking and good fellowship’ ballads in his wider collection.

This term ‘good fellowship’ was a defining motif of this genre, one that very much emphasised the social nature of alehouse-going. A visit to the alehouse was portrayed as an opportunity to enjoy good company, to forge bonds with neighbours and co-workers, and to relegate individual concerns in the pursuit of communal merriment. These songs encouraged individuals to partake in alehouse sociability to avoid social isolation.

They did, of course, see alcohol as an important adjunct to this environment, but they did not promote the pursuit of narcotic oblivion: alehouse-goers in this period made a distinction between being ‘merry’, a good state in which to socialise, and being ‘overcome with drink’, a loss of control that represented a shameful state. Then as now drinkers sought to navigate the line between drinking responsibly – and sociably – and drinking harmfully. The fact that very few people drank alone in alehouses – something diary evidence from the period attests to – demonstrates that the alehouse environment was as much about sociability as it was about alcohol.

History highlights the fact that local pubs have acted as valuable components of ‘community infrastructure that empowers social connections’ since their very inception, and it is a role they have continued to play down through the centuries. Arguably, though, their contribution is now under threat from a range of factors, and their doors are closing at an alarming rate. A recent study at the University of Oxford has argued that pubs are well placed to support social networks and tackle loneliness if the Government acts to arrest their decline. History supports such an argument: pubs have long served as community hubs and the Government’s strategy to tackle loneliness would benefit from recognising and harnessing the contribution they can make."

Dr Mark Hailwood is a Lecturer in History at the University of Bristol, specialising in the study of everyday life in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. He is the author of Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England (Boydell, 2014) and a co-ordinator of the interdisciplinary Drinking Studies Network. He tweets @mark_hailwood and can be contacted at 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Death of the English Pub

Christopher Hutt 1973

The first three pages of this book, written in 1973 - one could, barring a little detail, republish today  (as of course I am doing to make a point) change the names of the 'Big Six' and pass it off for being written about what is happening to the British Pub RIGHT NOW in 2020 (before the inevitable cleaning out of thousands of pubs that don't have the financial stability to survive coronavirus lockdown, government and societal insousciance). Why beer writers and CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) do not take this in is beyond me.

The Death of the English Pub, Christopher Hutt, 1973 

Some of us - ME included almost as a lone voice - have been saying for over a decade (It's like climate crisis) that collectively we need to ACT to save pubs NOW for perpetuity because they are almost gone. We have been standing by witnessing Hilaire Belloc's precient warning from his 1911 pamphlet 'Of This and That' and ignoring what's been happening at the hands of, first hedge funds and more recently, vulture capital as pubs are rendered to alternative use on an industrial scale of 1,000 community pubs are sold off by pubcos every year.  That is white collar cultural criminals posing as 'pub company' executives wilfully converting OUR pubs in to THEIR cash ... 10,000 pubs chronically starved of investment for decades have been shut down and sold for alternative use since 2010 ... this is causing unconscionable damage to Britain's sense of place, eroding community cohesion, fraying the very fabric of society. We HAVE to change this; Collectively, we CAN.

Below: full text of the first three pages of the book's introduction

The Death of the English Pub

'When you have lost your Inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.' HILAIRE BELLOC

There is a pub in north-west London, which I sometimes visited during the early stages of research for this book. The public bar was a favourite gathering place for pen-sioners in the area, who used to enjoy a couple of drinks and a natter or a game of cribbage or dominoes. In the middle of 1972 the elderly tenant and his wife retired, and the pub was immediately closed for 'extensive alterations' according to the contractors notice outside. When it re-opened three months later, the public bar had been knocked through into the saloon, and the whole area covered with wall-to-wall carpeting. The tenant had been replaced by a manager who no longer kept the dominoes or the cribbage board behind the bar—nor even the darts, for this board too had been removed. The beer pumps had vanished to make way for a set of keg dispensers and all the prices were several pence up on those charged before the closure.

During the first lunchtime session after the pub re-opened, the pensioners arrived one by one to renew their old habits. They were told immediately that their custom was no longer wanted, that the pub was aiming for a different trade. In spite of a petition on their behalf signed by several hundred people, and sympathetic coverage in the local press, they have been thrown out for good. Those who can travel to other pubs in the area do so in smaller groups: those who can't, stay at home. This is not an isolated case. There are thousands of similar instances, many not quite so devastating to the local community, some even worse.

The nature of most of the pubs that we know and have used has been changed out of all recognition in the last ten years and the bull-dozer still seems to be gathering power and pace. People sit in bar corners bemoaning the declining strength and flavour of their pint. Articles about the destruction of character in old pubs appear in the press from time to time. When a tenant is given notice to quit by his brewery so that a manager can be installed, his regulars usually get up a petition. With a few exceptions, however, people have not effectively resisted the changes that have been forced upon their pubs. On the face of it, the reason could be that they do not care about these changes, even that they welcome them.

Anyone who knows a pub that has been tarted up and given the gimmick treatment, or where a longstanding and popular tenant has been sacked, or where the local beer has been discontinued after a takeover, will know that this is not true.  People do care greatly about what happens to their local.

The problem is that where English men and women are quick to organise effectively when their home is threatened by a road scheme, or their work by a redundancy plan, they quite naturally prefer to take a more casual approach towards their leisure facilities, in the relaxed but misplaced belief that these will not be spoilt.

The growing band of environmentalists, while they are beginning to achieve so much in so many areas, have a blind spot where the pub is concerned. Its preservation should be among their highest priorities. After home and work-place most people probably spend more time in their local pub than anywhere else, more so even than the supermarket, the cinema or the local beauty spot. Some people may disapprove of this, but it is nevertheless a fact. What happens to a happy spirited pub, however smoke-filled the atmosphere, and even if too much alcohol is occasionally consumed, is just as much an environ-mental issue as the future of Covent Garden, or what we do about pollution in the River Trent.

This is not to say that all change should be blindly resisted on the assumption that what is old is always best.  Of course the pub is bound to change in some ways, and indeed needs to do so if it is to keep its vitality in the future.  A great deal of money has been well spent in providing kitchen facilities so that people can have a snack as well as a pint.  The standards of modern sanitation are obviously preferable to those of the nineteenth century on grounds of both hygiene and comfort. Not all old pubs are cheerful and welcoming, and those which are not can certainly benefit from a careful facelift. But items such as these account for only a small proportion of the brewers' massive spending on their tied estate.  Much of this budget is used to force unwelcome change on unwilling con-sumers, and this is what the argument is about.

This situation has arisen because of the way the brewing industry has changed as a result of the unprecedented spate of mergers and takeovers in recent years. Fifteen years ago the industry consisted of hundreds of individual companies competing with one another locally and regionally, each producing local beers to suit local tastes. Today seven companies account for more than 80 per cent of beer sales in this country.  They are: Allied Breweries, Bass Charrington, Courage, Guinness, Scottish and Newcastle, Watneys and Whitbread.  Guinness is excluded from the broad scope of this book's argument, firstly because it owns no pubs, and secondly because its major product has not been reduced significantly in strength or flavour.  The behaviour of the remaining companies, the 'big six' as it is convenient to call them, is the root cause of the death of the English pub.

The contemporary Big Six in 2020 are: Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken); Ei Group (Stonegate); Punch Taverns (Patron Capital); Admiral Taverns (C&C Group); Greene King (CKA Holdings); Marston's  

Sunday, May 17, 2020

#NoPubNoRent A Movement for Change

This is what I posted elsewhere in a private forum with more than 1,500 pub licensee members to a publican, elaborating my thoughts about why #NoPubNoRent is so important a campaign. And that was in response to a tied pub lessee posting caution of his understandable concerns and fears about being involved in #NoPubNoRent stimulating reprisals from freeholders for holding out against their demands for rent when for the majority of tenants operating at FMT, or below, there's no possibility of paying it. The reason there's no possibility of paying the rent, irrespective of grant or loan position is because their businesses aren't profitable and they're always running on empty, living out of cash flow, like mini versions of the pubcos which is, precisely, the crux of the matter. The pubcos force their tenants' businesses to run on empty, it's their business model, because the pubcos cannot afford to let their pubs at Fair Rent and Supply Prices because THEY are so highly geared the business doesn't stack up unless they sweat assets to the maximum, and beyond...

Unfortunately many, many tenants don't 'get' what they've been sucked into, which is a contract to indentured labour. Only tenants who exceed the pubco's expectations of 'fair maintainable trade' for any given outlet have ANY chance of survival in business. The pubcos rents are set to SWEAT assets that can only survive the valuation and excessive costs of profiteering beer prices with the business running at full pelt. That's not Fair, it's not Maintainable and it's not reasonable Trade. It's what keeps tenants on a hamster wheel running 24/7 365 unable to stop, look around, take stock and understand fully what's happening to them.

The tied licensee says on his post dissenting against #NoPubNoRent, he wants convincing about continuing with the campaign. It's not complicated, really. This has nothing to do with different circumstances for every tenant and some being able to benefit from furlough, grants and soft ish loans and it has nothing to do with fairness toward freeholders.

#NoPubNoRent is a strategy, a stand, a fixed point to strengthen the position of thousands of tenants, a position to take jointly and severally in unison, in recognition of the FACT that individuals have no sway or negotiating power against the pubcos - who are working together, naturally as they are a CARTEL, to strengthen THEIR position AGAINST 20K tenants who they're expecting to bail them out of the deep hole they've dug for themselves over the last 40 years as they turned from being pub companies into fly by night vulture capital backed retail asset conversion specialist spivs.
#NoPubNoRent is about standing together to make corporate bullies who as a basic part of their business machinery, put thousands of their 'business partners' out of business every year, year in, year out, as they con people into running pubs for them to pay the costs of landbanking until the Pubs are no longer fit for purpose and they can flog them off for cash to get 10 years projected rent income to point at the debt mountain in one go... 

#NoPubNoRent is about forcing the pubcos to the wire. Making them take the kind of outrageous actions in public domain they do to individuals all over the country all the time and forcing them out of their white collar complacency and into the spotlight of public scrutiny so their barbaric business model is exposed for what it is. Abuse of corporate power. Banditry. Bullying. Corporate deception. Fraudulent practice. Mis-selling and misrepresentation. Skulduggery and Ripping off the whole nation along with their 'business partners'.

The Pubcos should not be in existence. This is a stand against them putting thousands of publicans out of business to pay their impossible to repay, irresponsibly raised debts and unacceptable bad practice.

One could look at it this way: Standing against the pubcos now is a unique opportunity; it will NEVER happen again. This is a chance to say 'I've had enough of it' and put a line in the sand. This is THEIR problem - and they are trying to make it everyone elses' by dividing all tenants... Taking a stand now against the inevitable happening down the line, post reopening post crisis - risking the freeholder taking action against you now against the inevitability of business failure some time from now. Like after reopening when turnover has fallen 30% from where it was...

Most publicans - tied particularly - run their pub businesses in financial crisis all the time; the very model of the tied lease is marketed by the pubcos and described by their trade body, the Beer and Pub Association as a low cost entry to business MOST tied leases start off, almost by definition, under-capitalised, under invested, short of cash and unable to evolve, innovate, make changes to the building or the offer... which a basic reason why as I say above, most publicans are running on empty. The inevitable is the business will fail eventually and unless (I have been there, seen it been IT) something remarkable happens to increase turnover by 10% or 20% or 30% - to get it into solid profit ... " if only we could get the upstairs rooms into service for B&B, the fire access to the function room on the first floor, if only the kitchen could have an upgrade, if only the garden furniture... if only the boiler could be replaced, if only we could afford another member of staff to take the strain off working 6/7 days a week, if only I didn't have to have another job to hold down the business at the pub ..." All these if onlys keep people going - keep people working fanatically hoping to release the extra trade they KNOW they could bring in ... if only... these are the things that thousands of people in run down, dilapidated pubs that the pubcos had no right to rent out in the first place because REALLY they are not fit for purpose as modern, hard working retail catering outlets... they aren't up to standard...

Make a stand. Stick to it. Make as much polite and reasonable noise as possible act together. All tenants across all pubcos. Play it as it comes... the pubco's aren't programmed to manage people who don't bend over and take it like a slave... 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

#NoPubNoRent The #GreatBritishPubcoScam 2020

It should be absolutely clear to everyone in the UK, and particularly anyone who's been a member of Protect Pubs ( join here ) for any length of time, exactly what tied lease pub companies are:

Private equity, hedge fund owned, vulture capital funded corporate vehicles used to acquire, then convert undervalued assets into cash.

They are owned by casino chancers and gamblers, poker players, sociopathic cultural criminals who are the drivers of disaster capitalism. Turning OUR pubs into their money is one of their crap shooting hobbies. If there's some kudos and beer along the road of getting richer than any ordinary person can ever imagine being, then so much the better. The people who work for these entities are only earning money to pay the rent. They know what they're doing but don't know anything else and will never admit their bonuses are predicated on running pubs down to be sold for alternative use by profiteering from publicans who are covering the interim overheads of land banking property before sale.

ANYTHING these corporate entities have to do with pub ownership or operation is incidental to their purpose. They exist purely to invest as little money as possible in order to return the maximum amount of cash imaginable.

Any action one or other of these entities they take that appears not to fit the above behavioral characterisation, such as spending money on refurbishing a pub, is a regrettable expenditure they have to indulge in while maintaining the appearance of being a 'Pub Company'. No more no less. These corporate sociopaths have what to ordinary people and publicans is unimaginable amounts of money to hand they use to keep up appearances.

There is no point trying to figure out why one particular pub over the next is chosen for spending money on, it's all irrational, the people who run these things have little more business acumen when it comes to pubs than sticking a pin in a donkey's arse. The evidence of 'the market' proves everything stated above.

Monday, April 06, 2020

#NoPubNoRent Morgan Davies CEO of BarBurrito lays it out for the whole of society

FROM PROPEL NEWS pertinent to #NoPubNoRent

Morgan Davies, CEO of Barburrito's piece in Propel Info nails the problem that's at the core of the toxic tied pubcos that are the British model for international disaster Capitalism.

Everything HAS to change in the pub and brewing sector if we are to enjoy great pubs and great beers for future generations. There's going to be a massive amount of fallout from lockdown - huge numbers of pubs and small brewers are going to go to the wall - they've been under enormous pressure already, squeezed by the globals and nationals, and this time for reflection will make many decide to throw in the towel. Life is too short to spend the whole of it working 60-90 hours a week, year in year out, earning less than minimum wage, kettled by Big Business and 'the Free Market' of which there is no such thing in the beer and pub sector.

There needs to be a commerical, cooperative, multistakeholder owned pub company with national reach that operates for the Right Reasons - to be regenerative and sustainable not extractive and short term as is the status quo... on to Davies' piece as published, below:

Mon 6th Apr 2020 - The restaurant property train crash by Morgan Davies

A colossal train crash is happening in slow motion, right now.

The UK retail and leisure property market has been over-inflated for years. Since I began running restaurants, operators have been saying the model is broken, that upward-only rent reviews based on the “evidence” of the latest person to over-offer on a nearby unit have been driving up rents to unsustainable levels. Short supply in triple-A locations and overexpansion by clumsy national chains has led to highly compressed P&L’s across the high street. In my opinion the property model and setting of “market rents” has created a situation where many operators are now running too close to the wind or at least have a tail of sites that are very close to being loss-makers. A few years back, landlord agents were fizzing with enthusiasm about how much a certain burger chain was paying per square foot, a certain pasta chain, a certain diner. Well, that didn’t work out well, did it?

Now, the current restaurant property model just about works when sales are growing for everybody at 5% to 10% a year. It doesn’t work when sales drop.

At the moment, landlords are entirely focused on the March rent quarter. They are understandably worried/upset/frustrated they haven’t been able to collect huge sums of money. I empathise with them, in particular those that actually need the rent to meet repayments. However, and it is a big however, I think many are missing the big picture here. Forget about the March rent, in fact forget about the June rent (which operators will be paying that?) The big issue is we are facing a fundamental shift that may mean retail and leisure rents need to change – forever. As one agent said to me recently, we are all kicking the can down the street at the moment. The big issue lies ahead.
What is going to happen next? Well, we all know operators like to model sales variations. We need to sleep at night. A 5% increase in sales looks fantastic. A 5% drop in sales can look concerning and, for some, fatal. The general public don’t understand this. How can 5% make such a difference. Most landlords don’t understand it. Many of our landlords make much more money on the unit we operate than we do. Now, throw in a 50% drop in sales and what happens? The model is entirely broken. Let’s just say we are all being pessimistic and sales will come back at 60% of previous levels. Still broken. Let’s say sales come back at 70% and creep up to 90%. Still broken. Run the scenarios if you like. Where rents have been pushed to a level that makes unit viability extremely tight across a wide portfolio, it’s logical to think a BIG drop in sales will make many units in an estate unviable and, therefore, many businesses unviable.

And, don’t forget, this had started before covid-19 arrived. The administrations had started. There were already increasing numbers of empty units in the high street. I can think of several “triple A” schemes where the landlords simply couldn’t let the units, even at 50% of the desired MGR with a turnover top-up. That was seismic. What is happening now is so much bigger. We are going to see massive changes in the high street. There will be opportunity within that but there will be a lot of heartache and collateral damage.

So, what the hell happens now?

At Barburrito, we are perhaps luckier than many. Fast casual feels like a safer place just now – we are strong on delivery and takeaway and our labour model enables us to operate at relatively low sales. But more generally, the property world (and their backers) need to wake up very quickly and realise their world has changed – forever. We need landlords to stop messing about with myopic conversations about repayment of arrears and to focus on how they are going to work with their operators to save their businesses over the next 12 months and, selfishly, the value of their own investments. We need rent holidays right now. We can’t pay rent when we are closed – a fact! We need fast intervention of flexible (and protected) rent contracts that work for the operator in a period where nobody has any idea what is going to happen to foot traffic and bookings. Think turnover-only rents initially (or does your landlord know what your sales will be in August, September, October?). Then think 50% of current rent for quite a while, plus turnover top-ups. Try asking the operators what the answer needs to be for them to remain open! More than a few operators have said to me that specific landlords can have the keys back if they think we are paying full rent at any point this year. Who is going to back fill those units?

What happens if there isn’t an incredibly fast response to this? Simple. Mass closures through administrations and pre-packs, mass job losses, hoardings and “to let” boards throughout the UK, a lasting depression. Then rents will come down – forever. I am not being dramatic.

Morgan Davies is chief executive and founder of Barburrito

Friday, February 14, 2020

ARE YOU A BREWER? Do you know someone who works for a brewer? SURVEY

Do you know someone who works for a brewer?

Working full time for a UK-based brewery?
Working on the production team (brewhouse, cellar, packaging)

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Throughout history brave, honest, honourable people have stood against artifice, dishonesty and disingenuity

Throughout history brave, honest, honourable people have stood against artifice, dishonesty and disingenuity 

Thomas More 1478 - 1535
A man for all seasons. 

"If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little - even at the risk of being heroes... "

John Donne 1572 - 1631
No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Edmund Burke 1729 - 1797 

Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents

Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.