This may have been said partly in jest, but there are now serious suggestions that local authorities should turn vacant shops into official warm rooms for cash-strapped people to congregate instead of staying at home. There may be merit in this idea, but surely, as Richard Coles suggests here, to some extent pubs provide a ready-made solution. Plus the pub is already heated, so nobody is incurring any additional bills.
Licensees, with good reason, have always been resistant to the idea of allowing freeloaders to spend extended periods in the pub without putting any money across the bar, and to not being able to exercise control over who is allowed entry. It would not be reasonable to expect already cash-strapped pubs to extend this welcome out of the goodness of their own heart, but if this role was formally recognised it could be a reason for pubs to receive additional financial support.
We’re going to need public places that are heated and open to all to help people through this coming winter, so maybe government could solve two problems by discounting energy bills for pubs to keep them open and people warm?— Richard Coles (@RevRichardColes) August 30, 2022
It might require pubs to incur additional costs, such as by opening longer hours and paying staff to work them, as this would tend to be mostly a daytime activity. And the visitors would no doubt expect to use facilities such as toilets, wi-fi and charging points that the pub had already paid for.
Licensees would have to put up with pensioners bringing in their own sandwiches and a thermos flask of tea, but of course they might even end up actually buying some food or drink from the pub. However, a line would surely have to be drawn at bringing in their own alcoholic drinks, which undermines the whole trading basis of the pub. And I suspect that the local authority warm hubs would have to enforce a no-alcohol rule to prevent street drinkers bringing in piles of cans and causing trouble. The warm rooms would need a lot more organisation and policing than might at first be imagined.
Maybe nothing will come of this – after all, you don’t hear much nowadays of pubs providing “community toilet” facilities which were widely discussed a few years ago – but it’s something that must be worthy of serious consideration.
And, of course, people are still free to seek out the warmth and hospitality of the pub in the normal manner...