This morning to ippr for a seminar on the future of community pubs, meaning pubs that predominantly serve their surrounding community. Rick Muir at ippr has been working with CAMRA to research the decline of community pubs, the social implications, and the policy options. The ratio of pubs to people fell from 1:201 in 1871, to 1:761 in 1971. It's gone on falling: 39 pubs are closing each week.
We could rehearse the reasons but they're not hard to list. It's critical not just as an issue for local economies, but also as an issue of local cohesion and the health of social networks.
In ippr's survey, pubs scored highest as the local places where people meet others from different backgrounds. The community pub is widely seen as a great social leveller, although it was acknowledged that they can be exclusive. It's still a somewhat gendered institution with faith and age exclusions.
Apparently the average pub raises £3,000 per year for charitable causes. A lot of business is transacted in pubs, they're essential meeting places for numerous local groups. Unlike supermarkets, which encourage less convivial drinking, pubs tend to put money back into their local economy.
And tradition matters to people - the sense of continuity and authenticity matters, the resistance to homogeneity and anonymity. People call it 'character'.
CAMRA's Mike Brenner raised the question of defining what is meant by a well-run community pub. So right, let's have a debate that generates awareness, understanding and motivation. It's apparent that pubs could be run as community interest companies, let's get a model that recognises their social role instead of regarding it as coincidental.
I took the opportunty to bang the drum for the idea of Community Impact Assessments (CIAs). I just want to see a robust methodology using social network analysis so that we can demonstrate the social impact of significant changes at local level (like road changes, large developments, provision of amenities etc). I've thumped out this rhythm often enough before (eg) and I feel that if we'd started work on it years ago, we might not have got into the mess we're now in with post offices.
Apart from anything else, having and using an accepted device to demonstrate 'community impact' could create an incentive within the pub industry to make a contribution to local community cohesion.
One of the MPs present said that it 'would help massively'. A ministerial adviser followed up with a call for the think tanks to get together and sort it out - which sounds either naive or ironic, given the way think-tanks behave, but encouraging, because I've been suggesting this for some years with understandably have less influence.
I propose to try and get a few folk around a flip chart and see what can be teased out of their brains.