“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Samuel Johnson, 1776
On the eve of the pandemic, the historic London pub was famous around the world, with over half of international visitors to the capital visiting one during their stay. 1 London’s public houses were also loved by Londoners – around three quarters of Londoners used pubs, primarily to socialise with friends, family and colleagues. The same percentage believed pubs to be important to London’s cultural heritage. 2
London’s pubs were also changing. To stay competitive, many had expanded beyond their traditional focus on drinking and the clientele this attracted, becoming more inclusive and active community spaces, with a wider, but equally crucial role in the contemporary city’s cultural and social life.
But London’s pubs were also disappearing, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The capital lost more than a quarter of its pubs between 2001 and 2017. The year 2016/17 saw pub closures at a rate of more than one every week. 3 A range of causes were suggested, but no one seems to truly understand why this was happening.
Then the coronavirus crisis struck. Hospitality has been hit particularly hard. It is likely that many pubs will not survive. And yet, as successive lockdowns in 2020 necessarily bred loneliness and isolation, our shared social spaces have never seemed more important.
This is the perfect moment, then, to consider the role that London’s pubs play in our communities, and how best to prepare for what might come next.
About this paper
This paper is the result of desk-based research alongside the findings of a roundtable event, held on 9 December 2020, and a series of adhoc interviews. The roundtable was supported by Power to Change and brought together publicans, practitioners and local government to think about what challenges and opportunities exist for London’s pubs,
the broader community role of pubs, and what London’s pubs need to survive the pandemic and beyond. A list of those people who attended the roundtable or were interviewed for this research can be found below. We are very grateful to those who shared their insights. The synthesis of the background research and views expressed are the authors’ own, however, as are the conclusions and summary, and so should be treated and attributed as such.
Roundtable attendees and interviewees
• Hannah Barrett, Plunkett Foundation
• Tom Barton, Power to Change
• Paul Broadhurst, Greater London Authority
• Tim Coomer, Coop Financing
• Pauline Foster, The George Tavern
• Alex Green, Black Cap Collective
• Andrew Green, British Beer and Pub Association
• Nick Hallaway, Antwerp Arms
• Peter Haydon, Them That Can Ltd
• Garry Hunter, The Tommy Flowers
• Mark Inger, Greater London Authority
• Anthony Miller, Pub is the Hub
• Rob Star, Electric Star pubs
• Geoff Strawbridge, CAMRA