Once upon a time, there was a pub on every corner of every town and city, and most villages had at least one – affectionately known as ‘the local’. Many of the shells of these public houses are still standing, but no longer as the community hubs they once were, rather as convenience stores. Some have been obliterated out of existence to make way for residential properties. A sign of the times you might think, because, after all, it’s cheaper to drink at home, and who doesn’t like loud bars bedecked with industrialised chic where the in-crown hang out to get hammered? But the community pub is about much more than pulling pints.
A true community pub is where locals get together to have a chat, play dominoes or darts, and wind down after a hard week. You might say that’s available at any bar, and to a certain extent it is, but the neighbourhood pub is ‘your’ pub; somewhere you can walk to easily and see the same faces. It’s familiar and comfortable, where everyone can feel safe. There’s no need for bouncers, because everyone looks out for each other, and acceptable behaviour is mandatory or you’re out the door. And you’ll meet regulars who stand or sit in the same spot every time they come.
While traditional Locals of old didn’t tend to serve food (unless you count pickled eggs and pork scratchings), today’s publican understands that his/her clientele are more sophisticated and enjoy eating out. Sub-standard microwaved ready meals that were so commonly offered as ‘pub grub’ a decade or so ago, have made way for in-house, chef-prepared dishes made from local, seasonal produce. Offering food accesses a new audience: people who like to dine out, but who wouldn’t necessarily visit a pub just for a drink. Serving food allows the whole family to visit the pub together, as opposed to modern bars, where children might not be welcome. Opening early for commuters to grab good coffee and a takeaway Full English widens the customer scope further. Catering for dietary requirements such as gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan indicates a forward-thinking establishment.
Man’s (and woman’s) best friend
Things have gone full circle here. Punters always went to the pub accompanied by their whippets, greyhounds, lurchers, and Jack Russells, etc., but then it was deemed unhealthy, so dogs were banned from most public houses. The community publican understands the attachment between a dog and its owner, so it welcomes well-behaved pooches, and even keeps a water bowl filled and a few treats handy.
The community watering hole is the place to meet. Punters enjoy the regular activities like the weekly quiz and dominoes, while for local groups and clubs, it’s the place to hold meetings. And clever managers know that by offering meeting space for free, it not only encourages more custom, it gives something back. Ideally, the more eclectic the users, the better, as the Local should be there for everyone. It can be used for darts leagues, book clubs, crafting groups, workshops, and the local am-dram players. Businesses and charities can use it for their AGMs, training seminars, social events, and recruitment. It doesn’t hurt if the kitchen can whip up some tasty and reasonably priced refreshments to make the meetings more enjoyable.
Where better to celebrate something or someone than in the community pub? It’s the ideal place for making merry or commiserating after the footie game. You can lap up the well-wishing at your special birthday party or retirement. Bask in the warmth of heartfelt condolences after a loved one’s funeral. A buffet always goes down well with guests, and having the pub cater the event removes the stress of having to prepare it yourself. You may choose to celebrate in a private room or commune with the regulars, depending on whether you see them as your extended family.
Lend a hand
Community pubs are often prolific at fund-raising for those who need it most. In addition to strewing a few collecting tins on the bar (and thumbs up for that), they are proactive with local charities. Entertaining special events are held to raise money, such as ‘family fun days’. If you’d like some tips for creating successful fund raising events, read How to Organise the Perfect Charity Fundraiser.
These days, when we seem to have better relationships with phones than with people, the local pub provides a place where we can really connect with each other and be part of something that still matters – the community.