In his latest Good Beer Guide pub podcast Nick Love talks to Beth Maguire, who runs a genuine community hubTwo words pop up with a frequency more than most others in York news at the moment: pub and community. Mostly together, as if they’re in some kind of quantum entanglement.
This has been in response to an unprecedented threat to the existence of several York pubs, which are seemingly pawns in a game of PubCo supermarket chess, who trade them for a perceived financial or retail advantage.
Problem is of course that no one that these changes affect is ever consulted. PubCos (pub companies) and supermarkets impose their plans on communities with casual disregard.
This bewildering disrespect is complete when they then expect that same community to part with their hard earned cash in their newly opened store.
Well the good public of York are not taking this lying down and have worked with community groups, councillors, local business and organisations as well as York CAMRA to fight back.
More than 1,200 people signed a petition against Tesco replacing The Punch Bowl in Lowther Street.
And there was recently a very well attended public meeting to resist the conversion of The Saddle in Fulford into a Co-op and student flats. “Co-operative” – now there’s a contradiction in terms given there are no local stakeholders that have had any input into the plans for the change of use of The Saddle.
A proper community pub
The recent interview I did with Beth Maguire of The Golden Ball, which is an utterly authentic cooperative, helped somewhat to lift the stygian mood that can envelope you when you’re fighting pub closures on so many fronts.
For The Golden Ball is about as ideal a template for a community pub that it’s possible to find.
Long story short, more than 180 people in the local community parted with £400 each in order to enable the purchase of the lease from the retiring licensees who had built up the business.
This was a hugely important development in that it kept a heritage pub with an historic interior of national importance out of the direct influence of national and probably unsympathetic owners.
If you head into the pub and go into the bar, you will find a space relatively untouched since 1929 when it was redeveloped by John Smiths. It is the most complete surviving example of an inter-war scheme by a company who back then were becoming one of the UK’s biggest regional brewers.
Pub life in this place is certainly not stuck in the past however, and the social calendar is vibrant.
Arthur Miller said that “a good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself” and to extend the metaphor into the licensed trade, you now have a local pub that is a mirror image of the wishes and ethos of the shareholders.
Many of them live nearby and actively get involved in the pub, whether by just frequenting it and purchasing its products or actually helping with the upkeep of the infrastructure.
Key to keeping costs down and the pub economically viable has been the selfless efforts of skilled tradespeople in doing restorative work as well as being involved with the organisation of the multifaceted nature of the events and activities that occur within the four walls.
The Golden Ball hosts musicians; artists; poets; bar billiards teams; mothers and toddlers groups; themed parties; community group meetings and sales of local produce such as artisan bread.
Overseeing this glorious diversity is the convivial personality of Beth Maguire.
You can see why the elected board of The Golden Ball chose Beth to be the public face of their investment. She is totally in tune with their ethos but as importantly, totally cognisant of wider outside current market trends, real ale and brewing and the licensed trade as a whole.
Bringing a quiet intelligence and authority to running such a high profile local community asset, she ensures its unabated popularity and speaks with refreshing candour and obvious passion about herself working in partnership with the board as a support network.
Pub of the year
Although they are in the 2015 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, one thing that sadly The Golden Ball has no control over is who they source their real ale from and how much they pay.
They still have to go through a PubCo for their stock, with the prohibitive mark-ups they charge for local beer – that other pubs a hundred yards away pay far less for.
Establishments like this, run for the benefit of the community, will gain a huge advantage from the new “Market Rent Only” legislation that was passed in Parliament just a couple of weeks ago and which will hopefully become law by May 2015.
I’ll write about more of that shortly in YorkMix, but in the meantime listen to this engaging interview with Beth and luxuriate in the fact that the current Yorkshire & Humber “Living Wage Champion” and Yorkshire Life Pub Of The Year” resides in York on a street corner in Bishophill.