Ipswich: Crisis looms for community pubs

THEY were once the hub of Ipswich life – a place to socialise, do business or just swap stories over a pint.

But there are fears today that a key element of community life has been lost forever after a Star investigation revealed as many as 20 of the town’s estate pubs have called last orders for the final time.

Julie Ridgeon, landlady at the Kingfisher pub in Chantry, described the rapid decline of the community pub as “horrifying” and said the majority of publicans are struggling to survive.

Several watering holes in communities such as Gainsborough, Whitton and Chantry have been forced to close recently.

In the last two years, the Thomas Eldred pub in the Crofts has shut along with the Hare and Hounds in Norwich Road, the John Bull in Woodbridge Road, and the Rose and Crown in Norwich Road.

Mrs Ridgeon, who has been landlady of the Kingfisher pub in Hawthorn Drive for the past three years, said: “It is a survival thing at the moment. People ask me why we are running the pub and not earning a wage but I think if we survive this recession, we could come out the other side.

“We are constantly striving to give people a reason to come to the pub. I go to bed thinking about what I can do next to boost trade. Everyone’s got their own niche but how everyone’s going to survive this, I don’t know.”

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She said her husband, Kevin, has been forced to take on a second job as a lorry drive to make ends meet.

Shaun De Silva, who has been landlord of Brewers Arms in Orford Street for the last 25 years, said: “If people don’t use them, we will lose them all.

“When I first bought the pub in 1986, there were seven pubs around me. Now me and The Masons Tavern in Victoria Street are the only ones left. We still have the community feel in our pub and instead of ploughing our money into music, we put it into Sky Sports.

“People’s attitudes to pubs are different now. They don’t tend to visit community pubs anymore. It is an absolute shame for the town and for the communities.”

David Kindred, former picture editor of The Star, has recently published a book called ‘Ipswich; Lost Inns, Taverns and Public Houses’. He explained that at the end of the Victorian period in 1898 when Ipswich was a quarter of the size it is today, there were 308 pubs. Now, there around just 90.

He said: “The situation has changed dramatically in the last ten to 15 years. The whole culture has changed. Pubs used to be social centres where people had wedding receptions and parties.”

Val Bint, who has been running the Steamboat Tavern since 1999, agreed: “Every pub is struggling. Rents are too high, beer prices are too high and people are going to the supermarket to get drink.

“The figures just don’t add up. The smoking ban and drink prices have killed the pub culture. The generation coming through are not interested in pubs. If I do not have music on, I do not have any customers.”

Nigel Smith, Suffolk CAMRA’s representative, has long fought for the pub industry.

“One area of the local economy that is currently struggling in the town is several of our local public houses located “off centre”, where a number have closed in recent months and years resulting in a loss of local facilities and many full-time and part-time jobs in the local economy.

“Other local public houses still remain under threat of closure and conversion into supermarkets or demolition for redevelopment. With a local campaign now under way to save the Emperor pub in Norwich Road from redevelopment, I hope the council will be fully consulting local people about the loss of such local facilities before yet another local pub has closed their doors forever and we are left with even more national supermarket outlets and even less local social facilities.”

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said: “The Golden Key situation is a classic example. The council tried to prevent that from being turned into a supermarket. It was turned down by the council’s planning committee but the government inspector overturned the council’s decision after an appeal.

“As a council we understand the concerns about local pubs being shut down. We do support residents and will do whatever we can to try and preserve them but we are up against the planning system imposed by the government.”

Mr Kindred will be at Waterstones in Ipswich on Saturday to sign copies of his new book on pubs between 10.30am and 1pm.

NIGEL Smith, Suffolk’s Campaign for Real Ale representative, has long fought for the pub industry.

“One area of the local economy that is currently struggling in the town is several of our local public houses located “off centre”, where a number have closed in recent months and years resulting in a loss of local facilities and many full-time and part-time jobs in the local economy,” he said.

“Other local public houses still remain under threat of closure and conversion into supermarkets or demolition for redevelopment.

“With a local campaign now under way to save The Emperor pub in Norwich Road from redevelopment, I hope the council will be fully consulting local people about the loss of such local facilities before yet another local pub has closed their doors forever and we are left with even more national supermarket outlets and even fewer local social facilities.”

David Ellesmere, the leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said: “The Golden Key situation is a classic example. The council tried to prevent that from being turned into a supermarket. It was turned down by the council’s planning committee but the government inspector overturned the council’s decision after an appeal.

“As a council we understand the concerns about local pubs being shut down. We do support residents and will do whatever we can to try and preserve them but we are up against the planning system imposed by the government.”

THE Rev Andrew Dotchin, vicar for St Mary and St Botolph in Whitton, said people in the area still miss The Whitton Crown and The Safe Harbour, which both closed in the 90s.

He said: “A public house that is well run is an asset to the community.

“It is sad to see local facilities disappear. We need to encourage all kinds of local trade, otherwise we just end up with shopping centres.”

But Alasdair Ross, borough councillor for the Rushmere ward, who was leading the recent fight to stop the closure of the Golden Key pub in Wood-bridge Road, said: “At the end of the day if people are not using them, I do not think we can expect breweries to run them as a loss-maker.

“People’s drinking habits have changed.”

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