Uttlesford pubs buck national closure trend

14:16 09 January 2014

Geoff Bates has returned to The Bell in Wendens Ambo.

Geoff Bates has returned to The Bell in Wendens Ambo.

Archant

Uttlesford is bucking the national trend when it comes to calling time on local pubs.

Research suggests Britain is losing its public houses at a rate of about 26 every week, with that number expected to grow during the coming year.

However, according to data compiled by ale-lovers across north Essex, rural landlords in Uttlesford are showing they are not willing to throw in the beer towel without a fight.

The Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) North Essex branch lists local pub closures in its free Last Orders brochure, but in what is a positive sign for publicans, this figure was matched by the number of reopenings in the area.

The data shows that although six publicans called time on their ­businesses during 2013, six also reopened for business.

In the past year, a number of Uttlesford pubs – including The Bell, in Wendens Ambo, The Axe, in Saffron Walden, and Yew Tree Inn, in Manuden – have reopened under new management.

The editors of the Good Pub Guide 2014 forecast that between 2,500 and 4,000 of the 49,500 public houses in the UK will be forced to shut this year.

But CAMRA pubs officer for the North West Essex branch, Richard Williams, said local evidence proved it was too soon to write off pubs in this area.

“It’s true they have had a hard time in recent years but there are ­definitely signs of a recovery,” he said.

“Many of the big firms, such as Greene King, are selling off pubs and a lot of those are being taken on as free houses offering what today’s customers want.”

The Bell, which closed last June after the tenant got into financial difficulty, has recently risen from the redundant pub graveyard thanks to the return of owners Geoff and Bernie Bates. They retired to Ireland and left it in the care of a tenant but have returned to reopen it.

Mr Bates said: “You have to keep coming up with new ideas to get people in, including ways to attract those from outside the village. That means looking at what pubs around you do and diversifying. Food is a must in a rural pub but it has to be a different menu to what is being offered elsewhere.

“If you keep a tight rein on your expenses and are a good publican then you should survive.

“But it’s like any village amenity – it needs people’s support. Too many people moan about their pub shutting when they don’t even use it.

“I’m lucky that residents in Wenden are very supportive and back us by coming here.”

Twelve months ago, The Axe, in Ashdon Road, was given a new lease of life when micro-brewery shareholder Chris Stringer bought the establishment as a freehold.

Previous owner Greene King had argued that the business was ­“unviable” – revealing plans to demolish it and build four three-bedroom houses in its place.

But planning chiefs at Uttlesford District Council rejected the proposal because it would result in the loss of an important “community asset”.

There has been a rise in the number of free house pubs in Uttlesford, such as The Red Lion in Finchingfield, Queens Head in Stansted Mountfitchet and The Axe.

• Mr Bates is looking for a new tenant to take on the running of The Bell. Anyone who is interested should contact the pub on 01799 540382.

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