Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 12:45 UK

New life for an old pub

Serving drinks in March, left, and new publican Mike Corfield
Then and now: Last orders in March (left), and new landlord Mike Corfield

By Laura Schocker

Britain's pubs are closing at a rate of 52 a week. In March the Magazine reported on the last days of a village pub in East Sussex. It's reopened, but how does the new landlord hope to make it work?

In the past year, 2,377 pubs have shut their doors across the UK - among them, the Bull's Head in the village of Boreham Street, East Sussex.

"As a villager, I was concerned that our community centre was, in effect, closing," says John Tomkins, who has lived in Boreham Street for more than a decade. The Bull's Head - the only pub in the village - was the first stop for local gossip and a good drink.

Pub exterior
There's no real reason for pubs shutting, other than they haven't got anybody serious to run them
Mike Corfield, pictured outside his pub

For Mr Tomkins, the final nights before the pub closed down in March were bleak. "It was a bit like the last days of Pompeii. Our world was ending."

But their world only ended for about two weeks. By Easter Saturday, a group of concerned locals and another publican stepped in to breathe new life into the Bull's Head. On 27 April, it opened again for business.

New landlord Mike Corfield, who has been in the pub trade for the past 28 years, first heard about its fate on television. Soon after, he bumped into the director of the brewer Harveys, owner of the Bull's Head since the 1920s, and asked about getting involved in reopening the watering hole - just before it was about to be permanently boarded up and sold.

"There's no real reason for pubs shutting, other than they haven't got anybody serious to run them," Mr Corfield says. He was prepared to take on the task, becoming the new landlord and tenant. "It's a lovely old pub in a nice village."

Tough gig

But the same problems that plagued the Bull's Head before it closed, and other pubs across the UK, haven't gone away.

The duty on alcohol increases at a rate of "excessive inflation", says Mr Corfield, and the smoking ban is driving people away from pubs. "The pub trade is being persecuted by the government."

And pricing competition from supermarkets, especially in a weak economy, has many people choosing to drink at home. "Supermarkets are giving booze away," Mr Corfield says, citing one chain where he recently saw a box of beer for £8. "Pubs can't compete against that."

These issues, coupled with high unemployment and the recession, makes opening, or reopening, a business difficult. "It's a tough backdrop," Mr Corfield says. "Sometimes I think I'm mad doing this."

Couple in pub
Customers such as Emma Lowe and Mark Holman hadn't wanted it to close

One solution is to increase the pub's offerings so he's not solely reliant on across-the-bar business. The pub is attached to about eight acres of land, which Mr Corfield thinks may hold the key to its survival.

So far, the Bull's Head has hosted a boot sale on this land, and other events, such as clay pigeon shoots, are in the pipeline for the future.

Charity events will also be key, Mr Corfield says. He organised an evening of live music with a raffle and auction for Help for Heroes, the charity that supports wounded soldiers. Events like this bring business into the pub, support a cause, and strengthen the pub's identity as a community hub.

He has also planted potatoes and started to raise farm animals, including chickens and pigs. The spuds, eggs and pork will be used in the pub kitchen, and the excess will be sold, bringing in additional revenue.

This type of diversification is vital to the pub's future, says Mr Corfield.

"Generally when a pub shuts, that's it, you know," he says. But he hopes the Bull's Head may be the exception. "It could have been another statistic. We're full on to raise a future."

The Bull's Head is the only pub in Boreham Street village

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