A study by a north east academic has highlighted the vital importance of the local pub to countryside communities.
Ignazio Cabras, professor of entrepreneurship and regional economic development at Northumbria University, carried out a survey of 284 rural parishes to examine the role played by village boozers, as well as what happens when they close down.
Professor Cabras, along with Dr Mathew Mount, studied parishes with no more than 3,000 residents that were situated at least five miles away from towns or parishes with 5,000 inhabitants or more.
Professor Cabras said, “The village pub is a key feature of rural England.”
“They are often described as ‘friendly’ and ‘homely’.”
“Many believe they foster social relationships among residents, strengthening the level of cohesion in villages and positively contributing to rural wellbeing.”
“But few studies have tried to verify scientifically whether this is the case.”
As part of their survey, Professor Cabras and Dr Mount collected evidence from organisations such as Actions with Communities in Rural England and the Office of National Statistics. They used this information to create an index to measure community cohesion and wellbeing.
Professor Cabras commented, “Overall, we found that pubs had a positive, statistically significant impact on social engagement and involvement among residents in the countryside.”
“We also found that this positive effect increased threefold between 2000 and 2010, the period we examined.”
Professor Cabras said he thought this was due to village pubs becoming more important to communities as other rural services such as shops and post offices closed down.
Professor Cabras also discovered that villages with pubs tended to have more social events, charity events, clubs and sports matches than those rural communities that lacked a watering hole.
Despite these positive effects, the number of pubs in Britain is on the decline. Figures from the British Beer and Pub Association show that between 1982 and 2016 there was a 25% decrease in the number of British pubs.
This is despite a 14% increase in the British population. There were around 68,000 boozers in Britain in 1982 but just 50,800 in 2016.
“That has to be bad for community cohesion,” Professor Cabras said.
“One way to help save these vital rural institutions would be to better identify and define ‘community pubs’. This would help to legislate in favour of those pubs that really are an asset for their community, and to design policies to support these businesses, such as rate relief schemes.”
Legislation does currently allow communities to come together to buy what are called ‘assets of community value’ (ACV). This legislation gives communities six months to put together a case to buy their local pubs.
But professor Cabras said, “If there is no ACV or preservation order in place, it is still too easy for developers to buy up and convert long-established pub premises.”
Another issue is the lack of public transport in rural areas, especially in the evenings. Professor Cabras said that providing incentives to taxi companies might help solve this problem.
Professor Cabras added, “But while the government should support rural pubs, residents must also play their part. It really is a case of use them or lose them.”
The British Beer and Pub Association also highlights tax on beer as an issue saying, “Between 2008 and 2013, tax on beer rose by over 40%, with a third of the price of a pint going straight to the taxman. Over 7,000 pubs closed and 58,000 jobs in the beer and pub industry were lost.”