OPINION: Looking back to navigate the future

By Greg Pilley, managing director, Stroud Brewery

- Last updated on GMT

Greg Pilley on how the trade continues to evolve

Related tags greg pilley Stroud Brewery Social responsibility Training Sustainability

It’s celebration time at Stroud Brewery – we’re finally old enough to drink.

Reaching our 18th birthday has been a rollercoaster ride: recessions, a pandemic, the far-reaching effects of wars, changes in customer behaviour, to name a few.

A significant birthday sparks congratulations and reflection. For us, our success has rested on not just turning challenges into opportunities but doing things differently.

We’re delighted with our success, and excited about prospects for the next 18 years as we navigate the ever-present need for people to meet and enjoy shared experiences, hopefully with a pint of our beer.

We began in 2006 after friends, family and the good people of Stroud, inspired by the idea of an independent craft brewery, provided the initial financial investment. Our first brew, Budding, won CAMRA’s Champion of Gloucestershire award just three months after it went on sale, boosting our confidence that we were getting it right.

We threw everything into the business that new enterprises usually receive – care for the product, passion, handling everything ourselves, and endless hard work.

Local economy valued

The timing was also favourable. Craft breweries were in their infancy following Gordon Brown’s duty relief for microbreweries and there was a growing unhappiness among certain sectors of the public at the move away from quality and hand-crafted towards mass-production at the lowest common denominator.

Paradoxically, this demand was enhanced by the 2008 recession. We found both consumers and businesses started to value the role of the local economy far more. Although pubs struggled, they saw an increasing interest in, and demand for, local artisan beers.

Some 95% of our beer was sold within the area, our sales doubled and we were brewing at capacity. Expansion was required and in stepped our local community once more to provide the capital required. In fact, we’ve expanded twice and, each time, finance from the community has played a significant enabling role – and in keeping us in business.

Our second expansion, into a purpose-built and much bigger brewery and taproom, greatly increased our overheads in 2019, so we had to grow quickly to meet these increased costs. Happily, we were getting into our stride once again: customers loved the new taproom, it was being used as a venue for community events and we had contracts to supply beer to national pub chains.

Then – the pandemic hit. Like all hospitality venues, the taproom had to shut down and our sales dropped to 20% of the pre-pandemic levels. The timing would’ve been terminal had it not been for the community rallying to our plight – they raised more than £114,000 in a crowdfunding appeal which, added to help from Stroud District Council, our landlord and our bank, provided the final, essential element keeping us afloat.

Ethical culture

This was no fluke. From our very beginning, we’ve seen it as a vital part of our business model to have a strong connection with our local community. The way we operate and brew beer matches both our own beliefs and the ethical culture of the town. I get involved in local initiatives, we donate to charities and staff have two days a year to volunteer with a charity of their choice.

We make the effort to develop the taproom not just as an ‘altar to beer’ but as a place where people can meet, connect, explore new ideas, laugh, learn and grow.

This is nothing new. In past times, pubs were an integral part of a community, helping to define its character and maintain strong social bonds. Hence, why people talked of ‘going to the local’ without even naming the pub.

Exploring how to work in partnership with their communities – not simply just offering food and drink – will strengthen the bonds between both of them once more. As a result, the community will care about their local and help it navigate difficult times.

The 21st century twist is to ensure a pub can welcome everyone, whatever their background and needs. The number of social spaces available within a community has seriously declined in recent times, especially for young people, meaning there will always be a role for pubs. 

Hospitality has continuously evolved and now is no different. We look forward optimistically as we see bars and taprooms adapting to the ever-present need for good company and a sense of belonging. 

Related topics Sustainability

Related news

Show more