Suffolk: Pubs buck the national closure trend with 19 pubs opening for business last year

Paul Harper (left) and Matt Smith are pictured at the Waggon & Horses in Sudbury. The pub is thriving and bucking the national trend. Paul Harper (left) and Matt Smith are pictured at the Waggon & Horses in Sudbury. The pub is thriving and bucking the national trend.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
6:11 PM

At a time when pubs across the country are closing at a rate of 26 every week, Suffolk is bucking the trend and is being boosted by “local success stories”.

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The Waggon and Horses

One pub that has risen from the redundant pub graveyard is the Waggon and Horses in Sudbury. It closed in January 2013 because the owners could not make it pay, but was bought by Growler Brewery which reopened the business in November.

The pub’s manager, Paul Harper, said: “The Waggon and Horses is bucking the trend and it proves it’s not all doom and gloom for the pub trade.

“The pub had been closed for almost a year when we took it on and prior to that it was on its knees.

“It has been able to reopen and it is very encouraging that it is trading as well as it currently is.

“We offer a good selection of local ales and we have a great chef who has put us on the map as far as food is concerned.

“I think we have proved that you have to offer people what they want and cater more for couples and families looking for something to eat, as well as the single drinkers.”

According to data compiled by beer lovers across the county, Suffolk’s landlords are showing they are not willing to throw in the beer towel without a fight.

The Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Suffolk and North Essex branch lists the area’s pub closures in its free “Last Orders” brochure, and in recent months, the number of re-openings has matched closures.

The figures show that although 17 publicans called time on their businesses during 2013, 19 reopened for business and a brand new pub, the Oakes Barn in Bury St Edmunds, welcomed customers for the first time.

In the past year, the Waggon & Horses in Sudbury, the Pinkuah Arms in Pentlow and the Compasses in Stansfield have all opened their doors again after closing down. Among many others to reopen after refurbishment are the Trowell and Hammer at Cotton and The Globe in Clare.

The editors of The Good Pub Guide 2014 forecast that between 2,500 and 4,000 of the 49,500 public houses in the UK will be forced to shut this year.

But CAMRA spokesman Nigel Smith said the local success stories proved it was too soon to write the epitaph for Suffolk’s pubs.

“It’s true they have had a hard time in recent years but there are definitely signs of a recovery,” he said. “The big firms are selling off pubs and a lot of those are being taken on as free houses offering what today’s customers want.”

Sudbury-based Bob Whittle, regional director of estate agent Fleurets which specialises in the sale of pubs, said around half of those they sell will remain as pubs while the other half are destined to become business or residential properties.

He told the EADT: “Without a doubt, there’s a tremendous amount of people wanting to purchase pubs at the moment and our office phones are ringing regularly with potential buyers.

“Most of them find that getting finance is the biggest obstacle and the market is currently driven by cash buyers. A proportion of those are developers or speculators who may not necessarily want to run it as a pub.

“But we have a number of deals going through at the moment including the White Horse at Badingham, the Rose and Crown at Great Horkesley, the Lion at Leavenheath and the Railway at Framlingham – all of which are continuing as pubs, which is good news.”

Mr Whittle warned that communities trying to safeguard their local by listing it as a “community asset” could be shooting themselves in the foot.

He continued: “The community right to buy has worked against villages in some cases. Once listed, a moratorium is triggered and it puts a six month block on anyone else who might want to buy the building as a pub. We have seen cases like this where potential buyers have walked away.”

Nationally, CAMRA has warned that the lack of trade in traditionally quiet January could be the “nail in the coffin” for struggling pubs.

So the organisation has launched a campaign and has sent out promotional packs to thousands of pubs in a bid to boost post-Christmas trade.

Pubs employ more than 500,000 workers and combined with the beer industry they add £19billion a year to the UK economy, according to CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner. He added: “Pubs play an important part in the UK economy and need to be protected and supported.”

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