Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Can we find new uses for our empty pubs to benefit the community?

I have been thinking about two problems and wondering if they could be brought together to create two solutions.

We have been approached countless times by community groups who are desperate for a building from where they can run their organisations. Urban First Aid for instance would like somewhere to store their first aid stuff and to train their first aiders and for a little office. The Polish community would like their own Polish club. The Liverpool African Association would like a centre, the Indian Protestants would like somewhere they could turn into a small church and Open Circle would like a youth club - and I could go on at length.

But we don't have any buildings and we don't have any money to provide any buildings.

What we do have though, is an increasing number of shut-down pubs. I have not counted them all, but there are probably 10 in our ward alone. They mainly have "For Sale" or "To Let" signs outside but we all know they will stay empty. Nobody is buying pubs and I cannot see any time when they will. Even the Phythian with its controversial planning permission for a bar, shop and flats, shows no sign of work starting. In fact it is beginning to fall down now.

They are key features on every street, certainly in Kensington, although there are some in Fairfield too, and at key locations, but now they are blighting the area and taunting us because we now have even fewer community hubs.

It makes perfect sense for these pubs to be given to the community to refurbish appropriately and move into, for their various group activities.

The challenge is to find a way to make it financially viable for both parties. The pub buildings are probably of low market value although they are probably on balance sheets at much higher figures, using historical data. It would create a loss on the Profit and Loss account to write them down. But if we could persuade breweries to take this hit, and consider instead the benefits to cash-flow of not having to pay utilities or rates or insurance on the pubs, it could make sense for them to just hand them over. I certainly don't see any of these pubs being sold on the open market and I dont see a rush of new tenants willing to take on a failed pub either. I don't know how much business rates a pub pays, can anyone let me know? A guestimate will do for these Kensington pubs.

If the brewery handed a pub over to a community group, permanently, that group could then apply for funding for refurbishment work to make it fit for purpose, capital funding is much easier to get than revenue funding.

The challenge would be for the group in its new premises to become self-sustaining, because the rates, utilities, insurances and repairs - all those things the breweries are currently paying, would still have to be paid. I think perhaps at that point, an organisation in receipt of a free building and capital refurb funding would have to knuckle down to its own fundraising.

Obviously some would find it easier - a Polish club would be straightforward, presumably they would sell alcohol and would be guaranteed good custom (assuming the idea is popular within their community) so it would be a pub by any other name really.

The church could tithe its members.

But for some groups, they would need to rattle the collection tins, apply for grants, ask for sponsorship....

I am thinking seriously about approaching all the empty pub owners to ask them if they would be prepared to hand over their pubs to the community and then taking it from there. But I expect there are some obvious pitfalls I have failed to see, what do you think? Is this happening anywhere else?


scouseboy said...

With the credit crunch ,and staying in becoming the new going out, you will almost certainly have more redundant pubs in your ward!!

Laurence said...


We have the same problem in Picton - 14 at the last count. The change in socialising habits, particularly amongst the under-25's and people buying cheap beer/wine at the supermarket, means that the corner pub isn't the same as it used to be and explains why they have gone out of business. We had some success last year when the Earle Marshall closed down and we managed to stop it being turned into a drugs rehab centre. Now, it's been reopened as a pub and is actually doing quite well under a new ownership. At the time they were built, pubs were built as working-class "public houses" for the local area and you can tell how profitable they were because of their rich architecture. It's difficult to find alternative uses when they close down and they become prone to vandalism and neglect. This is real shame for their historic significance and their place in the street scene. Your suggestion about asking the breweries to gift them to the local community makes sense as they would make ideal places for social centres and I think this would be easier in the economic downturn - perhaps even at a peppercorn rent. The main factor would, then, be future viability in the longer term - including an income stream to pay for services, upkeep and so on. Future WNF a possible option?

steve faragher said...

one of the problems is the owners/estate agents still think they can make bigmoney from the pubs (I have looed at the money they want and its just crackers amounts),when they should get real and just eb happy to make any money, afterall if the pub is empty then its costing them money, KensingtonVision would be intersted in getting one fo these palces and turning it into the radio station and our HQ, even maybe even generating some cash from runnigna healthy eating Cafe.....Toxteth TV took over a pub adn Dingle Opps IT centre is also in a pub, so they are examples we coudl go and see.
If it was cheap enough we'd be interested