A Suffolk pubs representative has urged residents to support the threatened industry this Christmas amid fears that pubs are being lost 'at a distressing rate'. 

Martin Bate, pubs officer for West Suffolk CAMRA and regional representative for the Campaign for Pubs, said the county's public houses have become vulnerable to closures, conversions and demolitions, with three closing this year in West Suffolk alone. 

Meanwhile, CAMRA and the Campaign for Pubs are actively opposing a planning application for change of use of the Greyhound in Bury St Edmunds to housing, and are tracking several pubs that are considered to be ‘at risk’.

East Anglian Daily Times: Martin Bate, pubs officer for West Suffolk CAMRA and regional representative for the Campaign for PubsMartin Bate, pubs officer for West Suffolk CAMRA and regional representative for the Campaign for Pubs (Image: Submitted)

Mr Bate said: "Our pubs are under threat, and we are losing them at a distressing rate.

"They have long been too easy to close down and then convert or demolish, which makes them vulnerable to those who do not value them or want to preserve them in the same way that most of us do.

"If we want to keep our pubs and our pub culture alive and thriving, we all need to visit our pubs to enjoy a drink, a meal or just meet up with friends."

East Anglian Daily Times: Campaigners have called for residents to visit their local pubs this ChristmasCampaigners have called for residents to visit their local pubs this Christmas (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Bate said pubs are 'a cornerstone of communities', particularly in Suffolk, and play a key role in the local economy.

"Pubs provide a living to thousands of hard-working publicans and pub staff up and down the country, not to mention the suppliers that rely on their custom," he added.

"2023 has been a difficult year for publicans with increasing costs and falling numbers of patrons, for some threatening their very existence."

The East of England region saw a 0.4% fall in pub numbers, with 3,365 pubs in 2022 compared to 3,380 in 2021, according to figures commissioned by Price Bailey and reported in the EADT in February this year.

East Anglia was the only English region to record a year-on-year decline - alongside Wales (down 0.2%) and Northern Ireland (-1.3%). On average there was a 1% rise in pub numbers across the regions.

The longer term picture is bleaker across the board. The East had 645 (or 16.1%) fewer pubs than in 2010, plummeting from 4,010, the figures showed.

Gordon Taylor, chair of Ipswich and East Suffolk CAMRA, said he believes this Christmas will be 'vital' for pubs.

"It’s traditionally their busiest time of the year and with the effects of high business rates, high interest rates and high inflation and the cost of living crisis in general it really could be a ‘make or break’ period for many," he said.

"There are a few sayings which particularly hold true which anyone who values pubs should bear in mind, in particular ‘a pub is for life, not just for Christmas’ and ‘use them or lose them’. Pubs are still closing nationwide at an alarming rate."

Mr Taylor added that many pubs, including The Cross Keys in Henley and The Duke of Marlborough in Somersham have recently reopened as successful community-run pubs. 

"Whilst it’s very true to say pubs are operating in a very difficult environment, with the right level of community involvement they can, and do, still thrive," he said.

East Anglian Daily Times: Fiona Cairns, director of the Suffolk Preservation SocietyFiona Cairns, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society (Image: Newsquest)

According to Fiona Cairns, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, some of Suffolk's most historic pubs are 'bucking the trend' of closures and instead re-opening, which is good news not just for residents but also for local heritage. 

Grade II listed The Lion in Debenham re-opened last month after 25 years of residential use, while The Wild Man in Sproughton, also Grade II listed, is also set to re-open with new landlords. 

The Trowel and Hammer in Cotton has a new owner and reopened at the end of November for a partial reopening ahead of Christmas, before it is refurbished next year.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Lion in DebenhamThe Lion in Debenham (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Ms Cairns said: "This is really great news, and certainly goes counter to the trend of pub closures.

"From a heritage perspective, in Suffolk this invariably means that an historic building is being brought back into what was probably its original use – rather than lying empty and deteriorating or being converted into a dwelling.  

"So let's hear it for the (hopefully!) soon-to-be thriving threesome and support all our local pubs to ensure the futures of these important community assets, their heritage and historic significance, are secured," she added. 

Chris Bailey, West Suffolk CAMRA branch chair, said: "This Christmas, why don’t you turn the television off and make a trip to your local pub, enjoy a beverage and perhaps meet new people for a chat?

"By supporting your local pub, you will also be supporting a local business and helping to keep a “community hub” open."