Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 17:51 UK

Calling time: Landlords' stories

Closed pub. Picture by Pete Yeates

The great British pub is under threat as establishments are closing at a rate of 52 per week.

The statistics have been produced by the British Beer & Pub Association. It says that local pubs are the most vulnerable as communities have been hit by the economic downturn.

Landlords have told the BBC news website about modern day pub life.

ANDY, CHESHIRE

I was a local in my pub for 20 years. It was being badly managed and had started to look really run down. When the leasehold came up for offer, I desperately wanted to keep it going as a local pub and believed that I could change it and turn it back into a thriving establishment for the community. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I had the leasehold for 18 months. When I took it over, I was led to believe that it was ticking over but actually it was running at a loss. By the time I realised how bad it was, I had accrued debt which I could never get out of.

It was a painful decision to close. I lost everything

I worked so hard to make it work. I concentrated on food sales to boost revenue and I made it a place for people to go to for social events. I organised team activities like quiz nights. I arranged theme nights like curry night, folk night and steak night. I got bands and singers to perform for the locals. I couldn't have worked harder to make changes.

For a while, it started to improve. I made a small profit every week but it just wasn't enough. There just isn't any financial help for tied public houses. My parents even offered to underwrite an overdraft on my account but the bank wouldn't lend, it's their policy. I felt there was no help at all.

It was a painful decision to close. I lost everything. I lost upwards of £120,000. I still feel very, very, very depressed. It was 18 months of hard work which resulted in failure. I feel angry that it need not have turned out like this. If the pub company I was leasing from had helped me with a rent arrangement or had negotiated a fairer deal with my beer tie then I could have survived.

People don't see the agonies I went through to keep the pub open

The pub has since re-opened so is still a part of the community. I helped the new landlady negotiate with the pub company so that she wouldn't have to go through what I did.

I don't go in the pub now though. I'm embarrassed about the failure. I also feel that I'm seen as a villain for putting jobs and the pub at risk. People don't see the agonies I went through to keep the pub open. They don't see the legal headaches and the financial and emotional costs of it all.

I would never do this again. Never.

MARK HOPKINS, HARROGATE
Mark Hopkins
Mark at the pump. Picture: Rachel Melvin

I've been a publican for 27 years and I've never been so busy in my life. I do think that a lot of pub companies still want too much profit at both ends of the business, both in supply charges and rent, but you have to look at all angles of your business and diversify where possible.

It's all about standards. I listen to my customers and I respond to them. When someone walks into my pub I give them a huge welcome, in fact I give them the warmest welcome in Yorkshire. When I serve guests a meal, I'll ask them if everything's OK, that way if it's not I can put it right and not lose their business. It's all about asking questions and communicating.

Mark and staff
Mark takes time to brief his staff. Picture: Chris Poole

I've also diversified and run a mobile bar business. I go out on the road selling and promoting my beer and drumming up business. I've worked really hard at this but now people come to me which is great. It's paid off.

I'm passionate about what I do. I've run four pubs and the one I run now was closed down when I took it over. I didn't do any major renovations but I made it clean, warm and welcoming. I make sure people know that their business is important to me.

You just can't expect people to walk through the door, it doesn't work like that. You have to offer a good product for a fair price with a good service.

A lot of locals come to my pub but I also get a lot of visitors who've come by word of mouth and that makes me feel very proud.

ALEXANDER, LARGOWARD, FIFE
Alexander in his pub

I've owned the freehold of this village pub for 18 months now. It's my first venture into pub life. I looked for a pub to run for ages but when I came to Largoward and saw the pub, I knew I wanted it.

It was ticking over when I took it on, but then the new licensing law was introduced and I had to pay £3,000 for a new license, even though I already had one which was still valid. £3,000 is a few months profit for me so you can imagine what a financial blow this was.

The pub is 400-years-old and 20 years ago you couldn't get through the door on a Saturday night for all the people trying to get in. Largoward was a mining village and locals would go to the pub most evenings. The community has changed a lot since then. Now the village has a lot of holiday homes, so for most of the week it's empty with owners only visiting at weekends. Also cheap alcohol in supermarkets means that people prefer to drink at home where they can smoke as well if they want to.

Alexander's pub in Fife
Alexander's pub in Fife

I had wonderful ideas for this place but I just don't have the money to make those changes now. I don't pay myself a salary, I just pay the bills and they're getting more and more expensive.

Just before Christmas I tried to tell the village that they might lose their pub. I told them to use it or lose it. It worked for a while, more locals came and used the pub but gradually they went away again. The villagers want a local pub but they just don't use it. I'm sitting tight at the moment but it's not good.



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