Rural pubs are closing at an alarming rate

Last orders, please. Image: Getty.

The village pub is a key – even clichéd – feature of rural England. They evoke images of pork scratchings and perilously low beams, frothy pints of warm ale and the summertime knock of willow on leather. They are often described as “friendly” and “homey” and many believe that they foster social relationships among residents, strengthening the level of cohesion in villages and positively contributing to communal well-being. But very few studies have tried to verify scientifically whether this is the case.

In one of my recent studies, funded by the British Academy and published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, I examined communities and parishes with no more than 3,000 individuals, situated at least five miles (or 10 minutes’ drive) from towns or larger parishes of 5,000 inhabitants or more.

Together with Dr Matthew Mount of Leeds University, we collected information from several sources, including Actions with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), to create an index measuring levels of community cohesion and well-being within communities across the English countryside.

We then focused on 284 parishes – and investigated the impact pubs had on community cohesion. Overall, we found that pubs had a positive, statistically significant impact on social engagement and involvement among residents living in the English countryside. We also found that this positive effect increased threefold between 2000 and 2010 (the period we examined) – possibly because pubs have become increasingly important as other essential services such as post offices and village shops have closed.

Our analysis also highlighted that parishes with a pub had more community events – such as sports matches, charity events, and social clubs – than those without or those with just sports or village halls. Simply speaking, opportunities for communal initiatives would be vastly reduced, if not nonexistent, in these parishes without the presence of pubs. But the presence of more than one pub provided no additional benefit. In other words, two pubs don’t lead to a stronger sense of community than one – and may even increase the likelihood of other problems, such as noise.

Our study reaffirms the significant role played by local pubs. But this comes as pub numbers are in rapid decline. Figures released by the British Beer and Pubs Association in 2016 show there are approximately 50,800 pubs open in Britain today – compared with nearly 68,000 in 1982. That’s a decline of 25 per cent while the British population has increased by 14 per cent over the same period. And when judged against the findings of our study, that has to be bad for community cohesion.

A number of factors are responsible for this decline, including a general reduction in customers’ visits to pubs and more competitive alcohol prices in off-licence retailers. In rural areas, this decline has been exacerbated by smaller village populations and fewer public transport options. Some pubs will have closed because they were poorly run, but can we preserve healthy pubs from unnecessary closures?


A dwindling party

One way to help save these vital rural institutions would be to better identify and define “community pubs”. This would help to legislate in favour of those pubs that really are an asset for their community, and to design policies to support these businesses, such as ad-hoc rate relief schemes.

Since 2012, Asset of Community Value (ACV) / Community Right to Buy legislation has given community groups six months to draw up and submit a case to retain a pub. However, if there is no such ACV or preservation order in place, it is still too easy for developers to buy up and convert long-established pub premises. Tougher legislation would help avoid unnecessary closures, and provide a platform for improving planning regulations.

The lack of infrastructure represents another major problem for rural pubs. Public transport is inadequate – especially in the evening – in many rural areas, which hinders the chances of any business relying on the sale of alcohol.

Incentivising local taxi schemes could enhance the attractiveness of pubs and many other businesses geographically spread and not well served by transport routes. The provision of additional financial support by local authorities for new taxi companies would help to keep tariffs down and encourage rural residents to use them more frequently. This would benefit all businesses, including pubs, operating in the local supply chain.

But while the government should support rural pubs, residents must also play their part. It really is a case of use them, or lose them – and once a pub is gone, it may well be gone forever.The Conversation

Ignazio Cabras is professor of entrepreneurship and regional economic development at Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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