Last orders? The challenges facing Lowestoft's struggling pub trade
PUBLISHED: 10:53 26 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:42 26 April 2019
It is said Lowestoft was once home to a thriving pub trade, with each watering hole a matter of yards from the next.
But over the years the distance has gradually grown and the UK's most easterly town no longer boasts that same array of pubs in its portfolio.
An estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in November 2018 said there were around 80 pubs remaining in Waveney, 20 less than there were back in 2001.
Across the country as a whole, ONS data showed a drop from around 50,000 pubs in 2008 to 39,000 in 2018 - a loss of almost one in four.
Pubs in the Waveney area are, however, employing just as many people as they were in 2001 and there are thought to be around 6.8 pubs per 10,000 people, higher than the national average of 5.8.
But Andrew Gray, who took over The Volunteer on London Road North in Lowestoft earlier this year, believes fortunes could barely be worse for the industry.
“I've seen the pub industry decline severely and it's not getting any better,” said Mr Gray, who has been involved in the trade for 18 years. “The only way to improve things is for people to start coming back to pubs because, if not, they're all going to die out.
“The smoking ban, low-priced alcohol in supermarkets and certain low-priced chain pubs have had a huge impact. Over the years I've had to lower pint prices, put up spirit prices and ask breweries to lower our rent - but many breweries won't do it.”
Lara Ingram, who has worked at Fieldys on Lowestoft's Love Road since last year, said willingness to go out drinking in pubs boils down to financial capability.
“The industry is surviving but has definitely declined because no one's really got the money to go out drinking,” said Miss Ingram. “A lot of people in this area don't have jobs or can't find jobs, so they simply can't afford to go down to the pub.
“I don't personally think the low price of alcohol in supermarkets is an issue because we're reasonably cheap here.
“Occasionally people stop coming back but I wouldn't say that's a representation of the trade. It's more down to people's circumstances changing.”
Lowestoft's selection of public houses has seemingly taken a big hit in recent years, with establishments including The Alderman, Marquis of Lorne and The Crown Hotel calling last orders.
Yet the town still boasts an award-winning brewery, with Green Jack collecting CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) gongs year after year.
Green Jack brewer Tim Dunford admitted the industry has seen better days.
He said: “Overall the state of the industry is terrible because people are socialising in different ways.
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“Things have changed a lot in the 25 years we have been brewing in Lowestoft. If you look back to the old beach village, every other house was a brewery.
“The positive side is we still brew some of the best beers in the country here.”
CAMRA itself continues to support the traditional British pub, campaigning for their survival and encouraging councils to adopt pub-friendly planning policies.
Nigel Smith, from the organisation's Ipswich and East Suffolk branch, said it has become increasingly tough for pubs to cater for everyone.
“No pub is a charity and so, in these tough trading days, most diligent bar staff are already mindful that it is important to maintain the support of their regulars whilst attracting new business,” added Mr Smith.
“Unfortunately, these days many people rarely just visit pubs for a social drink, with lots of other choices for leisure time in this modern world.
“Many CAMRA members seek out pubs which stock beers from their favourite brewers or local breweries - such as those offered at the Triangle, Stamford Arms and Norman Warrior - but others want food, entertainment, accommodation or traditional pub games.
“In reality, some pubs will not appeal to many people as they might seek to attract a niche market. That's fine, providing they can still build a viable business and get enough support.”
Brexit means bust?
Since Britain decided to leave the European Union in 2016, pubs across the country have been forced to predict the extent to which business will be effected.
Many landlords have backed a 'soft' outcome, while others have thrown their support behind a second referendum.
Andrew Gray, landlord at The Volunteer, just wants an end to the whole saga.
“There can be a return to better days but we've got to get Brexit out of the way,” said Mr Gray.
“At this moment it's killing the trade because everyone who worries about money is saying they can't afford to go out. Because of the uncertainty people are being far more cautious about what they spend.
But Lara Ingram, from Fieldys, is not convinced about Brexit's impact on punters.
“Brexit has had very little effect in my opinion because we still get the same people coming in,” she said.
“Occasionally people stop coming back but I wouldn't say that demonstrates Brexit's impact on the trade. It's more down to people's circumstances changing.”