Last week I looked briefly back at 2011, and concluded that it had not been a bad year locally regarding the pub scene in Calderdale considering the economic climate, especially in the real ale sector of the local industry, but also for local pubs, of which I observed a number of re-openings this year, especially in the Calder Valley, after some large losses in the area in the previous couple of years.
However we cannot relax and keep looking back at the previous year when 2012 will offer fresh challenges. This year is when there will be real bites into the economy overall, a large number of public sector workers (the council is one of Calderdales major employers along with HBOS) will be cut over the next couple of years as part of the coalitions plans and extra taxes will cut into the average persons disposable income.
Different pubs are experiencing very different trading conditions already, and this is drawing from just one afternoon in one small town in the the Calder Valley, Hedben Bridge. For those who don’t know the town, it is a tourist town which nestles in a valley between 3 hills, surrounded by beautiful countryside and moors, and is so famous for its alternative lifestyle that the phrase “on the bus to hebden bridge” is a listed euphemism for being a lesbian. The town is full of independent shops and has a famous arts festival each year.
Already I have to update my comments from last week regarding the towns pubs, passing the Hole in the Wall in Hebden Bridge last Sunday, the place was nearly empty, most of the ale pumps were not on stream, and the place looked a lot more run down since I last visited. I have heard rumours that change of ownership had not done trade any good and sadly this seems to be true, which is a pity for what was a very good ale and cider pub not long ago.
On the upside I’m glad to say that the Shoulder of Mutton is shaping up to be good pub under the “ownership” of Eddie “Red Rooster” Geater, 4 ale pumps on (out of 5) when I visited, with what appeared to be 3 solid regular and 1 guest ale. The selection included Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Black Sheep Best Bitter, with Slighty Foxed as a guest ale. Having tried the guest beer, the ale seems to be kept in a good condition and the staff seem friendly and well trained. A steady stream of customers seemed to agree with me.
The other change in the town is that the White Lion has been refurbished and has now gone slightly more upmarket, seeming to attract plenty of customers. The main reason I visited the Shoulder of Mutton was that there was very little room in the Lion, but am glad I did, although it will be interesting to see what the food is like and what has changed regarding its previously solid if not spectacular beer selection at the White Lion.
For a long time before I started to take real ale seriously and still drank what you may call the mainstream ales such as Black Sheep, the Castle Eden beer they had as a house beer was probably my favourite brew, so my personal links with the White Lion go back over 10 years (having lived in the area for 14 years), and I admit I have a soft spot for the place still, despite it not being a prime location for my choice of drinks any more.
Hebden Bridge is “the” tourist town in the area, and the main location for outsiders to visit within our boundaries and it has always had a good roster of pubs to visit considering its compact size. Add to the pubs above the White Swan, Railway Inn and the Moyles, as well as the Fox and Goose and Stubbing Wharf on its outskirts and you have a good balance between dining, real ale and regular pubs.
However when people have less disposable income it is the “trips” which get cut first, and the destinations like this town lose out first, like any tourist destination whether it be a theme park, seaside resort or entertainment complex. Visits to the local and “popping into town for pint” survive the cuts longer, but are not immune still, many local landlords will attest to that.
I don’t profess to be an expert on the pub trade, but what I do see is the successful pubs having a unique selling point, whether it be the locals loyalty, real ale, food or entertainment. There are still a lot of pubs just about trading, as in most areas of the country and these are the ones which are most at risk of any spending cuts from consumers.