Chris Maclean: The pub really is the hub

By Chris Maclean

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pubs Fireworks

There seems to be a consensus; it was killed by the Millennium. New Year's Eve simply isn't the same any more.I remember it well. For those of us who...

There seems to be a consensus; it was killed by the Millennium. New Year's Eve simply isn't the same any more.

I remember it well. For those of us who had pubs nine years ago there were some tough decisions. Everything was so expensive. It was, after all, the Millennium. None of us were ever going to live through another. Staff, rightly so, expected to be paid a premium rate. Entertainment, if you could get it, was staggeringly expensive.

Licensees were faced with two choices. Either they opened, but paid out a great deal to do so, or they closed. In the village where my pub was, all three pubs chose to close. For those elsewhere who remained open, many licensees opted to restrict access with tickets. As licensees these actions, to me, seem perfectly reasonable.

But for the poor old customer it presented a problem. New Year's Eve, hitherto, was an opportunity to go out, cruise amongst the pubs, find places that were agreeable and settle down. Here in Faversham, I understand, there was a beautiful tradition for everyone to congregate in the market square at midnight and sing. But the Millennium created a new scenario.

If a customer was to venture out there was a strong possibility that the pub they wanted to visit was shut, had some form of restricted access, may not be what they had wished for or they simply did not like. There was every chance that, if you went out, the pub you wanted to go to would refuse you access, the alternatives were closed and you were faced with an unacceptable choice. Small wonder then that many elected to stay at home. But this process still continues. Since then many people have decided to stay at home.

For us, back at the Millennium, we chose to close. We donned black tie and visited a succession of peoples homes. It was lovely. However I did also break free and visit another party where the guests, dressed in 70's clothing and drank from cans of warm lager. I felt a little awkward. They should have been in my pub.

In truth, and I've never mentioned this to my wife, I wish we had opened.

Much of the debate about licensing tends to treat the industry much like one that manufactures washing machines or door knobs. It isn't. We have a duty and a responsibility to our communities.

We have a critical role in the pulse of the people we serve. Yes, there are outlets that flog beer for less than a pound a pint and to hell with the consequences. But above them all is a community of pubs that recognise their role and responsibilities.

I salute those pubs.

I salute those pubs that respond to those needs. This year I have been warmed this year by a succession of stories of licensees who have cooked meals, given shelter, helped out, provided transport for and touched the lives of countless folk who otherwise would have been ignored. Those people, those pubs and those licensees have my utmost respect. I hope they know who they are.

Many pubs, including my own, did our communities a disservice at the Millennium. I think maybe we deserve to be punished for letting our communities down. We were wrong.

This year promises to be difficult. My hopes are that pubs understand what they are and deliver what their communities need and want and that, by doing so, they have a peaceful, prosperous and enjoyable New Year. Our communities deserve pubs that do better for them.

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