Village pubs – do they make a community?

After a stroll through Rutland on an October ‘summer’s day’ we arrived at Seaton, a picture-postcard village not far from the magnificent Welland Viaduct with its 80 or so arches. The George & Dragon at Seaton is a modern day perfect village pub – good food, excellent beer (malty Bateman’s plus a local Grainstore ale) and well aware of its community role. Whilst food’s important to their success they are very happy to see people who just want a pint.

The pub’s got the builders in to add bedrooms but that didn’t interrupt normal service and a very friendly welcome. Of course like any successful village pub it knows its business model has to combine the local village folk as well as attracting customers from further afield. It’s a good base for a walking weekend – plenty of footpaths including the now dinosaur-free Jurassic Way.

Whilst enjoying my pint of Bateman’s XXXB I thought about the role of a pub in a village. The CAMRA ‘What’s Brewing’ for November 2014 carried an article from an academic researcher (‘Just like beer, pubs are good for you’) suggesting that, “simply speaking, opportunities for communal initiatives would be extremely reduced, if not inexistent, in these parishes without pubs.”

I’m all in favour of pubs in villages and no doubt a well-run pub is a positive factor in attracting some in-comers as are shops and schools. However I’m always wary of research where the analysis ‘shows’ the results the researchers want to hear, i.e. pubs make a village community and therefore we should legislate accordingly. A strong correlation between the presence of pubs and community activity does not necessarily mean that pubs are the determining factor in community cohesion. Is there anything else that drives community activity and delivers business to a pub? I think it’s people that make the difference.

Many villages, particularly in commuting distance from major towns and cities, have become an escape route for the affluent middle class. For example, the presence of ‘Wealthy countryside commuters’ and ‘Better-off villagers’ in CACI’s Acorn consumer segmentation shows how the older affluent groups use villages as an alternative to the suburbs. These affluent demographic groups have a high propensity for eating out and  community activities – fuel for both community cohesion and financially successful village pubs. (NB I used to work for CACI.)

Like bank branches (see the latest government requirement to ignore financial viability), pubs and community cohesion depend on the local population in term of its size and demographics. In my view, the idea that pubs provide the magic ingredient for a successful village, or any other community, is merely a comfort to those who want to preserve any pub whatever the circumstances. As Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carville said, “it’s economy, stupid”. If the right people aren’t there in numbers it won’t work – preserve it and they will come doesn’t work.

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