Cheers! Suffolk's pub industry toasts another successful year
PUBLISHED: 09:00 02 January 2017
Suffolk's pub industry is toasting another successful year of trading amid concerns over a national decline of the great British pub.
The number of either new pubs opening or closed pubs reopening has outnumbered the number of closures yet again in 2016, according to Nigel Smith, Suffolk Area Organiser for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
A similar positive outcome in 2015 followed “six years of decline”, he also told this newspaper this time last year.
Pub owners believe factors behind the latest boost to the embattled pub trade include the rising appeal of real ale and ‘foodie pubs’, pubs starting to become more innovative to attract and maintain new and old customers, and a rise in London holidaymakers supporting their newfound local watering hole.
Mr Smith said: “I think that the pub trade generally remains tough, with far more pubs closing than opening on the national scene.
“But here in Suffolk, for the second year running, we have once again seen a few more pubs open, or reopen, rather than close, especially during the past six months or so, which has been a particularly busy time for such changes.
“These pub openings have included a couple of new openings and a few longer-term closures finally being reversed.
“I have also continued to see considerable interest in investing in local community pubs which shows that many people are still prepared to invest in a local pub to ensure they retain a pub in their own village.”
At the peak of the recession, 52 pubs closed down every week nationwide in 2009. This figure dropped to 29 in 2015.
The latest regional figures have not been released by CAMRA. But in 2015, 12 pubs either opened or reopened, as opposed to nine closures. In 2014, nine pubs opened or reopened, compared to 18 closures.
Mr Smith said there are still lessons to be learned for new pub owners.
He said: “Some of the more recent pub closures have included a couple of short-lived craft ale bars in Ipswich, and I think that a lesson to be learnt there is, although there is clearly a market for such new products in the trade, the total exclusion of real ale from the bar is a risky strategy, as many regular real ale drinkers will not compromise on what they like to drink or the quality way in which they expect it to be served.
“If new pubs want to compete, they have to get their beer quality and beer selection right quickly to ensure they are competitive in a tough market. We are also seeing the loss of several local clubs at the moment and I would be interested to know of venues under threat, especially if they are the only drinking venue for a local community.”
He said he was unsure what effect Brexit could have on pubs in 2017, but added: “If it means more people spending more money locally then that will also probably be good for the pub trade, too. And it would be good to see more people coming together for a good cause, such as keeping a local pub open, rather than arguing endlessly about politics.”
Dog and Duck is thriving in ‘foodie’ Suffolk
The director of a food-focused pub, which opened just three months ago in east Suffolk, says he is fortunate to have set up in a county with such a “fresh and vibrant” culinary scene.
Tom Greening and his family acquired the Dog and Duck in Campsea Ashe, near Wickham Market, in April, and opened in October after an extensive renovation.
“It’s been amazing,” said Mr Greening, who is also the pub chef.
“We’ve been pretty popular ever since opening, with lots of repeat customers, good reviews and we are really enjoying being part of the Suffolk ‘foodie pub group’.
“It’s such a fresh and vibrant county to be involved in the trade; there’s always lots going on, the suppliers are phenomenal and people are genuinely into their food.
“I knew Suffolk was a foodie county but it was not until we moved here and started renovating the place that I realised the wealth of good eating pubs.
“It’s a really healthy scene and there’s room for everyone. I feel really lucky that we’ve opened up where we have and received the response we have.”
Mr Greening said that while some traditional pubs may be suffering due to changing social habits, those that offer something interesting, good food and a varied selection of drinks, could still succeed, particularly in Suffolk.
“There’s no longer such a culture in this country where drinkers go to the pub five days a week, so it’s key to offer something different,” he added.
Real ale offer boosts Southwold Sail Loft’s offer
The manager of a recently-opened Suffolk restaurant has said the real ale side of its business has “really taken off” with customers.
Kate Adey, who opened the Southwold Sail Loft around 18 months ago, says its appeal to drinkers “is going from strength to strength”.
“We are a restaurant and not part of any brewery so we try to offer a selection of interesting drinks from some of the smaller breweries,” she added. “As an independent business, we have the freedom to put whatever we like on.
“It’s always tough starting up a business but I think word spreads very quickly and people seem to like that we offer something different.”
Ms Adey said Southwold’s popularity with visitors, particularly those from London, made it a good place for pubs and restaurants to operate.
Villagers rescued the Beehive in Horringer
After closing down in 2014, the Beehive in Horringer, near Bury St Edmunds, has been subject to a public campaign to reopen their valued community hub.
Earlier this year their efforts were vindicated after a private buyer stepped in to purchase the building, reopening the pub in November.
It was a close run, with two planning applications submitted to turn the building into a house, but the second was withdrawn after the local council received more than 30 objections to the scheme.
Peter Crofts, chairman of the Friends of the Beehive group which was set up to save the pub, said: “This is great news and means our battle to save the Beehive has been successful.”
During the past two years, the Friends group formed a Community Benefit Society and successfully fought off an appeal by the owners against the listing of the pub as an Asset of Community Value.
The new owners, Simon and Sarah Chaplin, now run the refurbished pub from Tuesday to Sunday, serving real ales and food, including roasts on Sunday.