In our towns, villages and suburbs, they are now such a common sight as to be mundane: boarded-up pubs, awaiting conversion to some new use or forlornly falling into dereliction. The current rate of closure is put at 18 a week. In rural areas, shuttered hostelries represent something particularly tragic: with churches reduced to silent visitor attractions and shops long since gone, they embody the demise of precious local assets in places where maintaining community life is an ongoing struggle.
Blame for the demise of pubs tends to focus on the 2007 smoking ban, impossible business rates and beer duty, the ocean of cheap alcohol sold by the big supermarkets, and younger people’s dwindling interest in booze and its associated rituals. Even if it ignores the ways in which many pubs have changed, the enduring idea that they are essentially male environments must also be part of any explanation. But there is also a clear sense of something every bit as fundamental: the decline of shared spaces, and the way we seem to be splintering into ever-smaller social niches. Many local businesses and institutions that depend on attracting a wide range of people are fading away. Worse still, the local and national politicians who might intervene often seem either not to care or to be making a bad situation even worse.
Pubs are not the only example. In 2005, the UK was reckoned to have 3,144 nightclubs, a figure which had fallen to 1,733 a decade later (in the London borough of Hackney, the Labour council has come up with an infantilising new policy whereby new premises will be up against a “core” assumption that bars and clubs should shut by 11pm on weekdays and midnight at weekends). The music industry lobby group UK Music reckons that, since 2008, we have lost 35% of our music venues. In many cities it feels like every available building will sooner or later be turned into luxury flats, a byword for turning inward and setting oneself apart. [Continue reading…]