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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Needing some space

The Heatons Bridge, a popular community pub in West Lancs
I see the the Morning Advertiser has an article suggesting how pubs can make greater use of their space, particularly areas that are unused for much of the time. It all makes sense, as long as it doesn't impinge upon the main functions of a pub. How far a pub can follow the Advertiser's suggestions obviously depends very much on the amount and the nature of spare space available; the tendency in the 60s and 70s to knock pubs through massively reduced the numbers of function rooms that are available.

I have long been involved in groups that make use of pubs for specific purposes, such as folk clubs, union meetings, CAMRA meetings, political party meetings, as well as the more usual birthday parties, wedding celebrations and wakes. In work, management would book hotels for meetings and conferences or, when I worked in Norris Green in Liverpool, the hospitality suite at Everton FC, much to the chagrin of Liverpool fans. The union, not being so flush, would choose pub function rooms, which were usually free. Occasionally someone would raise the objection that some of our members might not wish to go into pubs because they weren't drinkers, but I'd argue that no one was obliged to drink alcohol, and that we'd be in a room without an open bar. If that wasn't sufficiently persuasive, I'd simply invite the person concerned to find another suitable free, or at least cheap, venue, and we'd go there. It's not as easy as people assume.

Recently, when the Lion pub was closed as I have mentioned recently, I did consider moving my song session to another pub, but the only one I approached wasn't interested; surprisingly, I couldn't think of another suitable venue that was suitable for us and also convenient for public transport.

A few years ago, a Wetherspoons pub agreed to reserve space a couple of mornings a week for a mother and toddler group. Predictably, there were horrified reactions from the usual suspects, so extreme you'd think they were suggesting sacrificing the first-born. I wasn't impressed with the objections: Spoons is a lot cheaper than expensive branded coffee houses, and if a young woman decided to have a glass of wine, so what?

The critics claimed to be concerned for the welfare of the mothers and children, but I thought them quite heartless. For many years, I was a home visiting officer for the DSS in Liverpool, and single parents made up quite a few of the clients I called upon. Some were fine, coping with support from friends and family nearby, but others were clearly isolated and lonely, having been housed in an area where they knew no one. I feel certain that something like the Wetherspoons group once or twice a week would have made a big difference, getting them away from the four walls, meeting others in similar circumstances and perhaps making new friends.

But such concerns wouldn't cross the minds of our self-righteous, self-appointed moral guardians, who failed to see that the proposed mother and toddler group was intended to reduce loneliness and isolation, a subject that I wrote about on 1 January.

It seems obvious to me that opening a pub to other uses when practical will justify its place as a valued part of the community. It will also help ensure it stays open for us drinkers.

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