Community spirit key to country pub revival

Tuesday, June 02nd, 2020

Forget automated ordering apps, country pubs deserve to trade on community spirit they have served so well from a distance during lockdown.

We read an interesting article at the weekend which queried the logic of re-opening of pubs based upon the use of pre-booking apps and ‘new to market’ automated ordering systems rather than their own ‘human’ touch and common sense to manage numbers in outdoor space.

It comes on the back of news that a phased re-opening of pubs could start on the 4 July if conditions – some technologically founded – are met.

The feature, published in a well read national paper, argued that the 27,000 pubs ‘blessed with beer gardens’ or ‘in the countryside’ had significant reason to be opened sooner but challenged whether nationwide policy was being influenced by the larger chains operating in towns and cities.

It quotes: “A country pub in the Peak District is very different from a Wetherspoons in Derby.”
“Rural pubs have lower footfall and outdoor space which could be opened quite easily with minimal risk. My village local could fit 20 socially distanced customers in there – and we rarely see that many anyway.’

It is an interesting quandary for policy makers.

With their charming décor, sweeping vistas and characterful service, the country pub is a Great British bastion of tradition; often centuries old with a rich history, gnarled oak beams, the roaring open fire, the championing of craft product…A place with black labs and locals mingle with ease as the landlord knows every name, every story and has the ‘usual’ perfectly pulled, waiting the second you step over the well-trodden welcome mat.

It has been a welcome feature of lockdown that online social groups have been frequently updated with posts and reviews applauding the qualities of the ‘local’ and the role of the country pub has played in keeping up community spirit; the doorstep deliveries to the elderly, the Zoom pub quiz connecting people.

It is the little things like bacon rolls to key workers just when they were most needed, cake to schoolteachers that raises a smile in the staff room.

But they are, after all, just doing what they are good at; that being a place of refuge, comfort, and charm there whenever and however you need it. Those posts, albeit community spirited, have also maintained the country pubs’ position as the heartbeat of the community. For that reason, the footfall is eager and willing to return from the 4th July – if not, indeed, sooner to support their local.
A quick gauge of public opinion across social suggests popping out for a pre-lockdown pint in a country pub isn’t blighted with the stigma or level of debate associated to the re-opening of schools or high street stores for instance.

The same spirit cannot be said, however, of the faceless chains – and of whom there is indeed the reverse with some distaste thrown in for good measure.

The fantastically celebratory piece on behalf of the Countryside Alliance by Mo Metcalf Fisher – who champions the re-opening of the Great British country pub as the ‘backbone’ of the community up and down the country – sums this up more brilliantly than we can put into words.

Whilst it is unlikely pubs post-lockdown will be all cosy chats over a class of Saxby’s Cider or craft ale next to the open fire or swaves of people meeting up for a hearty roast with all the trimmings for a while, the imminent return of the much loved country pub is a prospect that comes with bags of feel good.

Over 35% of our Muddy Matches active members refer to enjoying ‘their local’ whilst the country pub is an often cited as the perfect destination as the first real life meet.

We recently saw a study that said coffee shops were the nation’s favourite for online daters to ‘get to know’ one another on a first real-life meet. For us, the country pub – is the undisputed number one for muddy singletons.

“We met at a beautiful country pub’ is a regular opener in many of our muddy success stories.

So, we think it should be remembered that amidst all the talk of implementing booking apps, automated ordering, plexiglass shields and hexagonal tables, it is the people – and their stories – and not the inner workings of hardware that makes the country pub a thing of beauty in so many ways.

As Mo Metcalf Fisher put so eloquently “In the countryside, pubs aren’t just a place to see off a swift half; In many villages across the UK, the pub can be the only community hub for miles around… a place for so many to escape social isolation.

“In the wake of COVID-19, we must protect them using the means we have.