Transforming Pubs into Community Hubs

Pubs have always been an important part of the local community, but even before the pandemic, some were struggling to keep afloat. To keep the doors open, publicans have applied a little creativity, transforming their premises and adding amenities such as takeaway/delivery, ‘cook at home’ food, postal services or groceries to their offering.

John Longden, chief executive of Pub is The Hub, a not-for-profit organisation that helps pubs to diversify by providing essential local services says “Pubs and good publicans are crucial in helping their local area rebuild from the impacts of the pandemic. Whether pubs operate independently or are owned by the local community, diversification may be a helpful strategy, as the key to future viability is certainly having extra strings to your business bow.”

John cites examples of pubs providing takeaway coffee kiosks, meals on wheels and offering craft cabins, repair shops or community allotments as ways to bolster sales and continue trading. “Other projects we’ve worked with include a community apple press, delicatessens, performing arts facilities and farmers’ markets,” he added.

Pub is The Hub operates a Community Services Fund to support a broad range of projects, however it’s not just about grants and funding schemes, a team of expert regional advisors are on hand to help businesses expand their services and learn from others in the industry. “We act as an independent sounding board and source of advice,” says John. “The first job for a pub thinking about diversifying is to do plenty of research and make sure your local community is supportive.”

A starting point is to survey customers and local residents to find out whether a service or activity would be well received, seeking suggestions for other services or activities that they would find useful. He says “The parish council and local authority need to be on board too. Keep your MP informed and speak to the local council to see if any funding is available and obtain any planning you might need. Pubs don’t need a ‘change in trading’ as they are licensed already. The first consideration is to look at whether there’s a dedicated space in the pub that can be converted or if there’s space to install a cabin/container in the car park. You may need planning permission for this, so do your research.”

Trialling a service can help gauge demand and receive vital feedback. During the pandemic Barrie Walden from The Ponthir House Inn in Ponthir, Wales, opened a pop up shop in the dining area of the pub, selling essentials such as fresh fruit and vegetables. The local shop had been shut for some time, public transport in the area is limited and the nearest town is over three miles away, so there was a clear community need. The store was such a success that Barrie decided to make it a permanent fixture. A log cabin shop was opened in the car park with Pub is The Hub’s expert help and a Community Services Fund.

Whether reinstating a local post office to provide a vital village service or if you have grander schemes in mind, diversification with the right support and knowledge can yield strong results and ease the long-term effects of the pandemic. To learn more about the opportunities available for your pub, visit www.pubisthehub.org.uk and get inspired!