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SPECIAL REPORT: Blackburn's pubs closing at an alarming rate
10:17am Thursday 15th August 2013 in News
PUBS in Blackburn are closing at an alarming rate, according to new figures.
Statistics published by drinks trade analysts CGA showed the town to be one of the worst in the country for pub closures last year.
Surviving pub landlords said it was difficult to keep trading with changing drinking habits and the poor economic climate.
The need to ‘offer something different’ and the provision of real ales were cited by some as the only way to remain competitive in an ever decreasing market.
And one local councillor said the rising Asian population in the town was a contributing factor.
Geoff Sutcliffe, landlord of the Rising Sun in Whalley New Road, said ‘street corner’ pubs didn’t stand a chance over the next 20 years.
He said: “I wasn’t at all surprised to hear 20 per cent of pubs had closed in 2012 because I have lived in the town all my life and can see what is happening.
“As time moves on, things will become more like they are on the continent, with the cafe culture, where it will be more bars selling food and coffee than street corner pubs. Pubs like mine will be gone in the next 20 years.”
Mr Sutcliffe, acting chairman of the Blackburn Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association, said there had been a change in drinking cultures which had led to the decline.
He said: “In my day, we would go to the pub three or four times a week.
“It was the social centre where you would meet up with friends, but over the years it has changed. Young people don’t come to the pub on a regular basis any more.
“And there is nothing we can do to change that. It is just the way it is and the way it will continue.”
Landlady of the Alexandra in Dukes Brow, Sue Ainsworth, said she was just about surviving in the difficult trading conditions.
She said: “Touch wood we are breaking even at the moment, but it is a constant struggle.
“People think that when pubs around you close it will make it easier but it doesn’t work like that as people want a run (of pubs).
“When I first came in here there was the Revidge Run, which people would do every weekend.
“But I don’t know if we will ever be able to recover from this situation.”
Andrew Buchanan, director of pub operations for Blackburn brewery Thwaites, said: “We have to recognise social demographics and consumption habits are changing. Many people now simply do not drink.
“At the same time, due to the changing nature of employment in Blackburn and the fact that it carries much less heavy industry, we have lost much of the blue-collar post-work trade.
“It is inevitable that some pubs that were once vibrant, are now no longer sustainable.”
Veteran Blackburn councillor Ashley Whalley, who became one of the first 250 members of Camra when he joined in 1973, said it was difficult to change the fortunes of pubs in the town.
The former regeneration chief said: “It is sad because many of these pubs have a great heritage.
“However, cheap alcohol and the related idea of ‘pre-loading’ has contributed to closures.
“On top of that, there is an increasing number of people in the drinking age in Blackburn who do not consume alcohol for religious reasons.”
In Hyndburn and Ribble Valley, pubs are doing well, according to locals.
Rishton councillor and real ale drinker Ken Moss called the situation ‘healthy’.
He said: “Three pubs have changed hands recently and they’ve all picked up as a result.
“There’s a big surge in real ales. People have cottoned on to the fact that pubs with real ale in are looked upon more favourably.
“The problem lies with tied pubs. The companies are pricing their own pubs out of business.”
Michael Dilworth works in the Swan With Two Necks, a pub his father Steve owns in Clitheroe.
He said thriving pubs are serving good food and resisting the urge to pay thousands for expensive subscription channels.
He added: “There’s a lot of good pubs in the Ribble Valley actually. A lot of them are eating places and not just drinking places now.
“We don’t play music or show the football. People come here for the real ale and the food.”
... but there's still some cheer about
DESPITE the challenges facing many pubs in Blackburn, some have bucked the trend.
Bosses at two popular Blackburn pubs said offering food or good quality real ale, or both, could change the fortunes of licensed premises.
The Black Bull in Brokenstone Road closed in 2009 after its trade declined, but it reopened two years ago after microbrewery Three B’s took over and it is now thriving, said bosses.
Martin Hall, sales manager at the microbrewery said: “We have been going against the grain in the area at the moment as we have been quite successful.
“In June, we won we won the Blackburn Camra pub of the year and came runner-up in East Lancashire.”
Mr Hall said the fact the pub had its own microbrewery on the premises made it an attractive prospect for customers.
He said: “We do brewery tours on Saturdays and people come for a drink and have a look around the brewery.
“Real ale is the big thing at the moment and we have eight different ales on the bar at all times.
“And it is our ales that people want to try. We did have guest ales on but found they didn’t sell.”
Ribble Valley Inns, fronted by Northcote chief Nigel Haworth, took over the closed-down Clog and Billycock in Pleasington and turned it into one of the most popular gastropubs in the North West.
Mr Haworth said: “I think pubs have changed and we have had to change with them.
“The Clog was previously a young people’s drinking and smoking pub.
“But the success we have had is with a food-led pub.
“People can come in and just have a drink, and we offer a selection of real ales, cocktails and wines, as well as locally-sourced food.
“It is still quite difficult trading out there in Blackburn and some areas have struggled more than others, but that is the same as anywhere in Britain at the moment.”
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