I see that the government have now appointed Bob Neill as Community Pubs Minister, whatever that may mean. It’s all too common to hear of “community pubs” being held up as an ideal in comparison with irresponsible High Street bottle bars, as, for example, in the comment here by Greg Mulholland MP that “community pubs are a crucial part of the solution to problem drinking.”
The term conjures up visions of cosy little street-corner locals with darts teams, meat raffles and coach trips to the races, the kind of pubs where most of the customers live within walking distance and regulars will greet each other in the bar. In short, the kind of place where you might ask the proverbial “man in the pub” a question and get a meaningful answer.
Yes, there still are pubs of this kind, but they represent a small and dwindling proportion of the country’s pub stock, and it is these “community pubs” that have suffered most over the past three years when legislation has decreed that half the pubgoing community have to be treated as outcasts.
And it is very misleading to imply that “well run pubs” and “community pubs” are one and the same. What about town-centre Wetherspoons? Or destination dining pubs specialising in local food and ales? Or multi-beer freehouses that most of their customers will pass numerous local pubs to visit? All types of pubs promoted by CAMRA, but not really in the accepted sense “community pubs”, unless “community” is defined as a community of interest of their customers.
How often, honestly, do you go in a pub and strike up a conversation with people you already know, but who haven’t either gone there with you or arranged to meet you there?
Perhaps if distinctions are to be drawn in the pub trade, they should be between “responsibly” and “irresponsibly” run venues. “Community pubs” is a sentimental, old-fashioned and increasingly meaningless stereotype which fails to reflect the way most responsible drinkers use pubs today.