Pubs as Community Hubs

I have been watching with growing interest the number of pubs which have been closing since the introduction of the smoking ban. This does not seem to have been getting much national publicity, although the local paper where I live, in Huddersfield, has given it some attention.

Now, while I personally think the smoking ban is a great thing, as someone who has always been anti-smoking and who has developed intermittent breathing difficulties which I put down to a combination of having been brought up with parents who smoked and having once worked in an office where nearly everyone smoked, I am concerned at the loss of community hubs which many pubs represented. And, of course, it is usually the pubs in the most disadvantaged areas which have been unable to adapt to the ban through increased food sales and the attraction of non-smoking customers.

Many of those communities have clear needs for community services, and the pub was often the one place which didn’t have to try too hard to attract people in, unlike community centres and publicly owned facilities. I wonder what scope there is for the re-opening of some of the lost pubs as explicit community hubs. They might incorporate a (non-smoking) bar, but they would have other services to offer which would sustain them in ways that simply being a pub did not. In particular, For example, I wonder what the potential is for ex-pubs to become centres for people to start small businesses in, in an environment where they can be fostered and nurtured through the early, difficult days of trading.

I would very much like to explore the potential of this idea, perhaps through a pilot project, but also a campaign to bring partners together to look at the role of pubs as community hubs and develop a national strategy to save and re-model them, before they are lost.

6 thoughts on “Pubs as Community Hubs

  1. Hi John

    I’m intrigued by the idea of using pubs in this way and back in 2005 I worked on a project at Koeln International School of Design analysing how you could foster a stronger sense of community on one particular street. There is some more information here (
    if you are interested. One of the main aspects for me was the idea of a tool library. If you decide that you are still interested in taking this forward please let me know and maybe we can look at a particular pub that will be closing.

  2. Hi John,
    Great post. I can only speak for the rural areas but I know pubs that have closed and pubs that have thrived. Sometimes the temptation for a landlord to fold and convert to flats is just too much.

    The ones that thrive nearly always have music and good food. I hope those that are suffering have the imagination and creativity to diversify and not give an excuse to anyone in power to seriously consider reviewing the smoking ban.

  3. I think the big problem here is related to the traditional role of pubs in working class societies. In my days as a community development worker, I used to hang around a lot in pubs (some people say I still do), because that was where a lot of the community was. This sometimes got me into mild trouble with my employers who thought I should be in a community centre or some other institutionalised place which most community members steered clear of.

    Such “real” community pubs were always enveloped in a haze of cigarette smoke and, if there ever was any food available, it was a couple of curled up sandwiches under a glass case. Such pubs could not change their offer by going down the food route because nobody ate there. Their main role was as somewhere for the men of the community, and a few women, to meet together outside the domestic environment and talk about the things which mutually interested them.

    Now, as I say, I support the smoking ban, for me, pubs are much nicer places these days than they used to be, BUT, it has killed working class pubs, which tended to be located in areas with the highest rates of smoking and lowest incomes. People in that situation don’t eat out.

    I worry about the removal of the one place in such communities where many people felt comfortable gathering together, and, I think, instead of constructing institutionalised community facilities, we should be building on the places where people already meet.

    Could there be a new role for community pubs in the Big Society? I hope and believe so.

  4. two years down the line and many of our pubs round here have closed. Several farms gone too. Churches, shops, schools… the relentless march of our youth into the towns and cities. No buses or trains.The rural areas are becoming dormant. One thing I can think of that will help is in this article: Balancing the books to justify NGA investment:

  5. Pingback: Food and conversation | John Popham's Random Musings

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