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Editor's Viewpoint

We cannot let our pubs go under

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'A good local pub, according to the 18th-century Romantic poet William Blake, has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer and there's more conversation.' Stock photo

'A good local pub, according to the 18th-century Romantic poet William Blake, has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer and there's more conversation.' Stock photo

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'A good local pub, according to the 18th-century Romantic poet William Blake, has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer and there's more conversation.' Stock photo

A good local pub, according to the 18th-century Romantic poet William Blake, has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer and there's more conversation.

Churches and pubs are two institutions particularly badly hit by the serial lockdowns. The main churches elected to suspend services for the duration, though private prayer is still permitted. Pubs, however, were given no choice in the matter, being shuttered since Boxing Day with no prospect of reopening in sight.

Some publicans have only traded for three weeks in the past 12 months. So the news that up to 90% of pubs in Belfast face permanent closure makes for sobering reading.

Publicans are facing rent demands from their landlords, while they in turn are under growing pressure from their funders.

Many so-called 'tenanted' pubs have had rent holidays since the start of the pandemic. But in some cases, these are reaching an end, with payments set to resume in April.

Good local pubs, like those Blake frequented, are much more than just somewhere to disappear to and watch the football. Pubs are at the heart of local communities. Many world-conquering bands played their first gigs in the upstairs room of their local.

Clubs and societies of all kinds - from pigeons to dominoes - meet there; their members often nursing a half of lager all night, much to the publican's chagrin.

Moreover, in Belfast, pubs form an essential part of the city's night-time economy.

If pubs fail, the restaurants and cinemas which piggyback on their custom will soon feel a chill breeze.

Take the traditional pub out of our tourist offering and it starts to look very flat.

What all stakeholders - publicans, policymakers and politicians alike - should be doing during the lockdown is forging a vision of what the city-centre could look like post-pandemic, rather than just returning to the same old ways.

Now that would give us all something to drink to.

Belfast Telegraph


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