According to the Long Live The Local campaign; more than 3000 pubs have closed their doors for good in the last 3 years and over the course of the next 5 years more than 1 in 10 pubs will join them, costing thousands of jobs in the process. It’s long been known that the pub scene is in decline, caused by rising beer tariffs, competition from supermarkets and partially, in my opinion, a failing on our part, as a community, to evolve with the times. We, as a community could be doing so much more to encourage more people to use independent pubs and to make them feel welcome when they do.
There are many contentious subjects in beer (cask vs, keg, big money buy-outs etc.) but the key to moving forward is shifting focus from the things that divide us towards the things that bring us together, because at their core that is what pubs are about; bringing people together. Pubs are at the heart of our communities and yet so many people don’t feel welcome or comfortable utilising this cornerstone of British society.
It’s a sideways, judgemental look from the man sitting at the bar when a woman orders a pint instead of a half. It’s a glance over the shoulder of the girl behind the bar to ask the barman behind her what beer he’d recommend. It’s the shifting in the seats when a visibly queer person walks up to the bar and the audible scoff when they order a gin and tonic in a “traditional real ale” pub. This is everyday, it is pervasive, sometimes it’s unconscious but for many it is the reality and it’s important for everyone to remember that just because it isn’t happening to you, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.
So how can we move forward? A great starting point is to operate zero tolerance policies in our pubs, train staff to deal with issues regarding discrimination and make sure that customers know that if they are discriminated against that staff will have their back and remove/bar offending parties. A great example of this is the Everyone Welcome Initiative, which provides solid guidelines for businesses on how to deal with discrimination and how to make everybody feel welcome in their venue.
Another positive move is to avoid supporting businesses that use discriminatory branding; a move which was taken at the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) this year by banning the sale of beers and ciders with discriminatory pumpclips. Both this and the choice of Stonewall as this year’s chosen charity at the festival are positive moves by CAMRA and GBBF emphasise a growing movement to end discrimination and encourage diversity in beer, but the resulting backlash also highlighted the sheer amount of resistance there is to progressive moves like this from within the beer community. We’re certainly seeing an increase in the number of women and queer people feeling comfortable enough to engage with the beer community at the moment, in part thanks to initiatives and organisations such as Ladies That Beer, Women on Tap, The Queer Brewing Project and Sheffield’s Out and About to name just a few.
Supporting these organisations, encouraging diversity and making newcomers to the beer scene feel welcome within our community is extremely important, not just for the individuals who currently feel marginalised but it is also essential if we want to encourage new markets to help save independent pubs and see our community not just survive but thrive.