Is it last orders for Barking and Dagenham's pubs?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 August 2015 | UPDATED: 08:16 26 August 2015
The Robin Hood, The Britannia, The Stag, The Westbury Arms, The Royal Oak, The Beacon, The Hope - these names, familiar to many, are just a handful of the pubs that once flourished in the borough but are now long gone.
In the last 30 years, more than half of the watering holes in Barking and Dagenham have closed – many permanently – while some have been saved and others newly opened.
The Roundhouse, in Lodge Avenue, Dagenham, looked set to become another name on the closure list until a last-minute decision by its owner, Enterprise Inns, to agree a new tenancy.
Alan Barker, South West Essex branch secretary at Camra, is cautiously optimistic for the future.
“It’s great news [that] The Roundhouse survived – maybe all the press did something,” he said.
“This is a bright spot for pubs, no doubt about that.
“Too often we’ve seen pubs sold, knocked down and turned into Tescos – we have to ask ourselves, What is more valuable: a shop or a pub?”
Alan said that the recent pub closures are due to cultural shifts and the decline of industry.
But The Roundhouse is not the sole bright spot in the area.
The Spotted Dog, in Longbridge Road, Barking, was threatened with closure in 2012 but was ultimately saved after a campaign was launched in its support.
“The pub was worth saving – and now we are doing better,” its manager, Negendra Gauchan, said. “We can’t compete with next door [The Barking Dog, a Wetherspoon’s] on prices, but we compete with customer service and live music.
“The real causes of pub closures are costs – business rates are £6,000 a month, Sky and BT are £4,000 a month – and the problem is that British people have a culture of drinking but the people moving here do not share that culture.
“But overall we are hopeful – we are hoping and waiting.”
Closures, conversions and mounting costs
Statistics released last month by Camra show 29 pubs a week are being lost across the UK.
The beer-loving organisation wants to see 3,000 pubs made into Assets of Community Value – giving them protection from development.
In 1976, there were 65 pubs recorded in the borough.
Today, 28 of them have been permanently closed or converted to another use, and 7 are closed with an uncertain future.
That leaves 30 pubs remaining – less than half.
The following are now housing: Fishing Smack, Harrow, Short Blue, Church Elm, Pipers, Royal Oak, Crooked Billet
...And these are now supermarkets: Stag (Lidl), Beacon, Railway (both Tesco)
£4,000 a month – the amount Nagendra Gauchan says he pays for Sky and BT for The Spotted Dog
£6,000 a month – how much he pays for business rates in the borough
Over in Dagenham, the opening of The Pipe Major in June has been a big cause of optimism.
Manager Joseph McDiarmid, 48, who has 30 years worth of experience in the trade, said the pub’s huge success has far exceeded expectations.
“It’s been the most successful opening I’ve done for years – it’s been really busy,” he said.
“People are coming here because we have a great chef and we serve high quality food at a reasonable price.
“Other pubs, proper pubs, are suffering because they only serve drinks, and they have to deal with drugs and rowdiness – but we are a food and family pub.”
Joseph explained that the old model – the “proper pub” model – is out of sync with modern norms, as it was created in a period when men drank midweek while their wives made food at home.
“Food is the future,” he said.
“The smoking ban, cheap supermarket alcohol, the empty gesture of taking a penny off duty – that’s why pubs are closing.”
For Alan Barker, the future for pubs can only be guaranteed by taking just such a path.
“We have to adapt,” he said. “Pubs are all about community, and I can only hope they will adapt to what works.”
• There will be a farewell party for Kim Sullivan, the current leaseholder of The Roundhouse, on Friday night, featuring a DJ – after which it will close briefly for refurbishment.