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.