Number of pubs in Ipswich has dropped by almost a third - but here’s how those remaining are innovating to draw in new types of punters

Louise Weeden at the Spread Eagle pub in Ipswich. Picture: Grain Brewery

Louise Weeden at the Spread Eagle pub in Ipswich. Picture: Grain Brewery - Credit: Archant

With nearly a quarter of the UK’s pubs taking their last orders since 2008, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) says communities suffer as small local pubs are lost.

There are now around 55 pubs and bars in Ipswich, an estimated 30 fewer than in 2008, figures from the Office of National Statistics show.

The situation has been reflected across the East of England, where 22% of pubs and bars have closed in the last ten years. There are now 3,430 in the region.

The ONS’s “Economics of Ale” report shows that there are 11,000 fewer pubs and bars nationwide than before the 2008 recession.

But the turnover of the pub industry has remained strong, as larger chains focus on bigger bars at the expense of smaller pubs.

Fears over dwindling custom has led some pubs to try new measures to ensure their continuity.

For some, that means staying open for longer. The Spread Eagle in Fore Street, Ipswich - by reputation Ipswich’s oldest pub - now has a new brunch menu available between 10am and 4pm Tuesdays to Saturdays. “There’s a large amount of footfall that goes past the pub because it’s close to the town centre,” explained Louise Weeden, who is area manager for Grain Brewery that owns the pub. “We all know that the price of alcohol in the supermarkets is cheaper. , but the sense of community you get from pubs is important.”

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While the number of establishments has declined, there are more employees working in pubs than there were ten years ago. The report suggests this may be because surviving pubs have moved onto offering more labour-intensive services such as food or accommodation.

In 2008, the average pub in the UK employed five people. Now, the figure stands at eight.

Ghost Ship alcohol free beer by Adnams

Ghost Ship alcohol free beer by Adnams - Credit: Archant

In Ipswich, a similar trend has been seen, with the average pub employing eight staff in 2018, up from six in 2008.

Despite this, the total Ipswich pub workforce remained steady at 700.

Non-alcoholic beer sales nationally were up 58 per cent this summer compared to the same time last year, according to recent figures from Kantar Worldpanel, and many Suffolk pubs have recently diversified their offering of non alcoholic drinks; local brewers Adnams and St Peters Brewery have both recently introduced new brands of alcohol free beers.

Keen to shake off their reputation as dingy boozers, some pubs are keen to market themselves as venues for new types of social groups to meet up, from book clubs to Facebook hobbyists. In June, the ‘Meet up Mondays’ scheme was launched at 20 Suffolk venues in a bid to combat loneliness by offering strangers a place to meet up socially. One of the pubs to sign up was the Greyhound on Henley Road in Ipswich.

Sarah Shaw, bar manager of the Greyhound pub in Ipswich. Picture: ADAM HOWLETT

Sarah Shaw, bar manager of the Greyhound pub in Ipswich. Picture: ADAM HOWLETT - Credit: Archant

The bar’s manager Sarah Shaw explained that when it launched, four or five people turned up, but now the regular turnout is about 20.

“It’s important that pubs remain at the heart of local communities, and Meet up Mondays helps us to serve that purpose,” she said. “It’s not as common for stranger to chat to each other in pubs anymore, and events like this give people a chance to connect.”

Camra has called for reform to business rates and cuts in beer duty to help tackle the loss of pubs. It also wants a full review of the Pubs Code, which governs the relationship between firms who own 500 or more pubs and their tenants.

The organisation’s chief campaigns and communications officer, Tom Stainer, said: “These shocking new figures show the huge loss that has been felt by communities up and down the country as beloved locals have closed down.

“By focusing on the stability of turnover from pubs and bars since the recession this study fails to measure the loss of the benefits that local pubs bring to their communities.

“Pubs play a unique role in offering a social environment to enjoy a drink with friends, they help combat isolation and loneliness and help people feel connected to their community.

“With a quarter of pubs closing in the last decade, we need the Government to act now to save our pubs from extinction.”