The following is taken from The Times newspaper, whose copyright it remains.
The article is based upon a study funded by the British Academy and originally published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.
One pub is just enough…
…to keep a village’s spirits up.
By Jerome Starkey, Countryside Correspondent of The Times
February 20 2017, 12:01am.
When it comes to fostering a sense of community, pubs are the perfect kind of social glue but only if applied in just the right amount.
Much as James Thurber, the late American cartoonist and writer, said of his martinis, “one is all right, two is too many”.
A study of almost 300 parishes by professors at Newcastle Business School and Leeds University found that villages without a pub were prone to fall apart while communities with just one had the highest sense of wellbeing, happiness and social cohesion.However, communities with more than one pub do not see an increase in social cohesion. In fact, the opposite is true.
“The level of cohesion starts to decline with more pubs”, said Ignazio Cabras, one of the report’s authors from the business school. “It could be related to noise pollution or binge drinking. We’re not sure.”
The study looked at villages and hamlets of up to 3,000 people in 284 parishes. “A higher concentration of pubs in such small villages and remote areas may generate and amplify the magnitude of possible negative [effects], eg, noise”, the report said.
The study gave each community a cohesion ranking on a scale of one to 12, based on factors ranging from the presence of a village noticeboard to the opportunities for volunteering, worship, sports and eating.
Professor Cabras said that his study, published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, ruled out the assumption that the more pubs the better.
The research was limited to eight counties — Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Suffolk, and Wiltshire — where councils or community groups had collected data in 2010, which they compared with figures from the Countryside Agency, collected ten years earlier.
They found that the number of pubs had fallen from over 500 in 2000 to little more than 200 in 2010 but their importance for cohesion had more than doubled. “The presence of pubs was so important that in ten years the importance grew two and a half times for the community cohesion index”, said Professor Cabras, who has written extensively on pubs.
“The pub has really got the kind of magic. If a pub is open a community is likely to achieve more than if the pub is not open.”
There are roughly 51,000 pubs open in Britain compared with 68,000 in 1982, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.
Professor Cabras said: “A pub is the kind of environment where ideas can flourish. Where you are just in front of a pint having a good laugh with your friends. It’s that kind of environment where differences are erased and people can start to create something together.”
The three communities with the biggest gains were Wickham Market, Fressingfield and Aldeburgh, all in Suffolk. The biggest loser was Boxted in Essex where the number of pubs went from four in 2000 to none in 2010 and community cohesion fell from seven to three on the professors’ scale.
Originally from Sardinia, Professor Cabras said village squares performed the same social function as the English country pub. “The main difference in Italy is you have hundreds of sunny days a year, so everyone sits outside”, he said.
Locals came to the rescue
Ignazio Cabras, who helped to compile the report, said The Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket in the Lake District was a “utopian pub”.
It has a brewery in its garden and is owned by a co-operative set up by the villagers to save it in 2003. It is the village’s only pub. It hosts charity fundraisers from a cycle race to an egg-dumping competition, which the landlady Helen Mumberson, pictured, described as like conkers with hard-boiled eggs.
“It’s like a communal sitting room, everyone’s that friendly”, said David Jack, one of the locals, who was there with a shepherd, a photographer and an IT consultant while the pub’s collie played at their feet.
As in many other situations the phrase “use it or lose it” would seem appropriate.
What do you think?