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Last orders? Not at our pubs
PUBS in north Essex are resorting to all kinds of weird and wonderful tactics in the battle to keep their customers.
With an avalanche of pubs closing down every year, those remaining are forced to be ever more resourceful, from adding small shops to their premises to offering cut-price deals for pensioners.
Pubs such as Colchester’s New Town Tavern and the Artillery Man are keeping their prices at rock bottom in a ploy to coax people from their the homes and back in the boozer.
More and more, publicans are concentrating on serving quality food as a way of appealing to families.
But that is often still not enough to lure cash-strapped drinkers, so one establishment has gone a step further and opened its own mini cinema.
The Thatchers Arms, in Hall Road, used a £10,000 donation from drinks company Pilsner to set up the big screen.
Its first cinema night, in May, a screening of Oscar-winning, the King’s Speech, was a sellout.
Landlord Mitch Adams said: “We show a film most Thursday evenings and we draw between 40 and 50 people in each time.
“They are all people who probably wouldn’t visit the pub otherwise, so it definitely boosts trade.
“Pubs have to diversify these days because the culture has changed and people just don’t have the money to go to the pub as much.
“I think people are quite rightfully more picky as a result, and they want to make sure they are getting good value for their money.
“We make sure our food is really good, and we have introduced midweek food offers.
“Diversifying is essential in order to survive in the current market, especially with our rural location, so we have to make sure we are offering something a bit different and special.”
Mike Blackmore, landlord of the New Town Tavern, in Kendall Road, Colchester, has tried to keep his drink prices as low as possible, and has just installed a card machine so people can use their credit cards if they are short of cash before pay day.
He said: “Everything is going up and a lot of people are not earning at the moment, so they just can’t go out as much.
“During the week it has been a lot quieter – I have really noticed that over the past few months.
“We have been trying to do a few things to attract customers and we have a few summer barbecues lined up.
“We have to do these things, otherwise people will just stay at home and drink because it’s cheaper.” Low-cost alcohol in supermarkets, rising taxes and the smoking ban have all been blamed for the demise of the local pub.
Prince Charles is now helping to stop the rot, setting up advisory organisation, Pub Is The Hub.
It encourages councils, communities, licensees, pub owners and breweries to work together to preserve our rural pubs.
The Anchor Inn, in Court Street, Colchester, has 100 acres of rural land next door.
It has capitalised on this asset by not only growing its own vegetables and rearing its own animals, but also building walkways and a wood, enabling families to go out and about in nature after enjoying a pub lunch or a drink.
The pub also has sheep, cows, and even a stag beetle pyramid, to keep youngsters entertained.
Co-owner Hector Bunting said: “We always ensure we have a variety of real ales on offer and our food is of a high standard. We have even recently built a smokehouse to smoke our own meat, the majority of which is reared on our land.”
This family-friendly approach is reaping its rewards.
“Because we can offer our customers access to our conservation area, where they can feed the animals and enjoy nature, we haven’t noticed that times are tough,” he said.
“If anything, things have never been so good, because people are choosing not to go abroad, so they are spending more money here. We also make sure we hold regular fun and free events, with a bouncy castle for the kids.”
Pubs around Halstead are also going the extra mile.
The Bell Inn, at Castle Hedingham, has come up with some quirky, practical and successful ways of being at the heart of their community.
Kylie Turkoz-Ferguson, who runs the Bell Inn with her sister Penny Doe, said: “We do a lot to get people to get together throughout the year.
“One of the things we do is put on a play, or in the case of this year, a musical. It’s great fun. Last year it was so popular, we had to put on an extra show.”
Staff and pub regulars all get involved, and last year they raised more than £1,000 for charity.
“By opening a small hop farm at the back of the pub, staff are hoping to brew their own beer, another way of saving money.
One thing is certain, pubs have been at the centre of British life for centuries and, if the innovative publicans in north Essex are anything to go by, they will remain so.