There are three words that are guaranteed to raise my spirits regardless of how down in the dumps I feel, three words that always make my heart sing, fancy a pint? I know having a drink down the pub isn’t for everyone, but for me, it’s something special. Having a few beers in a pub garden on a warm summer evening is like food for soul. Putting the world to rights over a couple of pints, as the ink black of night pushes against the pub window, well, for me at least, that’s a perfect way to spend an evening. The pub is somewhere to celebrate, commiserate, laugh and cry. Pubs are not just somewhere to drink, they are a kind of therapy.
It’s easy to take pubs for granted, especially in Walthamstow because pubs have been going through a bit of a rebirth in recent years. The Bell, The Chequers, Queens Arms, Village Pub and the Dukes Head have all been given the refurb treatment. Mirth, Marvel & Maud popped up in the old EMD cinema, and of course the ever popular community hub that is the Rose & Crown, continues to go from strength to strength. It seems, on face value at least, that our pubs are thriving. But being successful isn’t always enough to keep a pub safe.
In November last year I wrote about another local pub that had been revived. Peppers Ghost on the Leyton side of Bakers Arms, was, in my opinion, a triumph. A good pub with good food, friendly staff and management, and an incredible programme of live music and DJ’s. Sadly, Punch Taverns who own Peppers Ghost have unceremoniously closed it down. You can read more about that story on the link at the end of this post, but Peppers isn’t the only pub to suffer at the hands of its owners. The Antelope, also in Leyton closed a while back, and the Cock Tavern on Walthamstow High Street closed last year, despite having a refurb just a few years before. The list of closed pubs is endless; The Common Gate, Pig & Whistle, Grove Tavern, Essex Arms, Lorne Arms, Ringwood Castle, The Lord Brooke and the Coach & Horses on St James Street, are all among the many to be lost.
So what is it then, what is it that keeps closing our pubs? Mainly, it’s because a pub can often make more money for its owners when developed or demolished, than it can when operating as a pub. Look at some of those that have been closed; the Ringwood was demolished and flats built in its place, the Essex Arms was demolished and replaced with a Tesco, The Lorne Arms, Essex Brewery Tap, Coach & Horses & the Windmill, have all either been entirely or partially converted in to flats. We are of course in the middle of a housing crisis, people need to live somewhere. If a pub is truly dead and beyond saving, being converted in to housing could be a good thing. But when these buildings are converted, I wonder how affordable the resulting flats are to people who are already struggling with rental and property prices?
It’s nothing short of a miracle that so many Walthamstow pubs have survived, but they haven’t survived unchanged. The time of sticky carpets is over, pubs had to change to avoid the developers sledgehammer. When new owners take over pubs they often get criticised for changing them. When the Duke’s Head re-opened there was a chorus of disapproval, it’s not a pub anymore, someone said to me in an email, it’s a kids playground and full of incomer yuppies. There may be more kids in pubs these days than there used to be, there may be fewer pool tables, but pubs have to respond to the ever-present threat that looms over them, and find ways of encouraging people in. If that means sometimes having a small child screaming in my ear, I’m all for it.
There are greedy eyes looking at our pubs, but they don’t see our treasured local, they see pound signs. Lets show them that we value the pubs we have left, let’s get our pubs registered as assets of community value to try to stop them disappearing. Let’s go and meet friends, make friends, argue, gossip and laugh out loud. But most importantly, let’s not assume that our pubs are safe. We simply can’t take our locals for granted, they need our support to survive. So then, who fancy’s a pint?