2010 Norwich pubs review

This year may have been slightly better for pubs than 2009 – but there's no sign yet that it's about to get any easier in 2011.

The pub industry had a torrid year in 2009, beset by serious financial problems and hit by inflation-busting increases in tax, the repercussions of the smoking ban, the rise of drinking alcohol at home and the increasing amount of cut price beer being offered by supermarkets.

Pubs in 2010 were boosted by the World Cup factor, despite England's dismal showing, and city publicans are also reaping the feel-good factor following the success of Paul Lambert's Norwich City team.

However, publicans said the total shift in people's habits, which means more people are drinking at home in front of the TV after buying booze from supermarkets, is not likely to change.

December's cold weather has also kept a lot of people at home rather than in pubs.

And publicans are bracing themselves for the effects that the rise of 2.5pc in VAT on January 4 will have, although some are vowing not to introduce the change straightaway.

Meanwhile, it's unclear whether the economy will pick up next year and leave punters with more spare cash in their pockets.

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Forecasters have been predicting the end of the pub for decades, but there are still plenty of watering holes left in Norwich, although nothing like the 400 the city could boast before the Second World War.

The Evening News has done its bit to help local boozers by featuring hundreds of stories in our Love your Local campaign, which started in February 2009 and has urged punters to pay their locals a visit.

The ongoing campaign has raised awareness of the tough economic conditions pubs are facing and urged people to either use them or lose them.

The campaign was boosted by the general election when candidates of all stripes lined up to praise what we were doing and promise the public that pubs were vital to the community, and they would help them survive.

Many pubs have had to diversify to survive, while others have resolutely stuck to a 'back to basics' approach to keep punters happy.

To survive the recession, many pubs have taken advantage of the increased popularity of real ale beers by holding beer festivals, which have become continued to be a regular feature on the calendar across the city.

Other pubs have undergone rebranding and tried to target different clienteles, with differing success rates.

Pubs have also taken advantage of every possible special date on the calendar to celebrate, from St Patrick's to Valentine's Day and Halloween, in a bid to bring out the punters.

Fortunes at many pubs have swung sharply with the Canary pub in Heartsease a good example. The community pub is set to close early next year to make way for housing, after being spared the axe earlier in the year following a community campaign to save it.

For Chris Higgins, landlord at the Trafford Arms in Grove Road, Norwich, much will depend on how Norwich City fare in 2011.

He said: 'The year 2010 has been very hard, as we have seen the full effects of the smoking ban and supermarkets selling cheap drink. We had to take the decision to return Sky television, because of the price, which has impacted on followers of sport.

'But Paul Lambert's Canaries have kept us all in good spirits. If it had not for him, making us proud of our city, we'd be in a deep depression now – he should be made man of the year.

'We are worried about the VAT increase and how that will affect us, but I'm a born optimist. If we can continue to keep doing the things we do, then we will still be here.'

Roger Cawdron, who runs the Ribs of Beef, in Wensum Street, Norwich, wants the government to bring in a minimum pricing for alcohol at supermarkets.

He said: 'It's been a pretty tough year and we are not looking forward to the VAT rise, which will obviously lead to an increase in beer prices. We've also got the budget coming up in March/April.

'This year, food-orientated pubs have done reasonably well, but some of the drinks-led pubs have suffered and obviously closed. We must have lost about half a dozen pubs in the city this year, and some of the country pubs are struggling. The onset of the cold weather has also made it very difficult.

'Personally we have found it about the same as last year.

'We should be trading better, but people are nervous about their jobs and not coming out. There's an enormous difference between on and off sales, which the government should really do something about now.'

Leanne Freeman has been the Australian landlady at The Mustard Pot in Thorpe Road, Norwich, since February.

She said: 'In this current economic climate, all businesses have had to make adjustments and as we know the pub industry has been hit particularly hard so our first year here has been a lot of 'hard yakka' as we say Down Under and much TLC (tender loving care) in getting the pub back to a good standard again.

'We have seen a very slow but very positive development in our business and have been encouraged by the amount of local residents now visiting the pub again.

'Being a tied house has its additional problems, however our business ethos is about value for money and high levels of customer service, which we believe we do well. The VAT increase in January will be a difficult start, but we are confident we will continue to grow slowly in the right direction. These things can't be rushed. We are here long term and want to ensure we provide a welcoming friendly atmosphere for a wide range of customers.'

Meanwhile, Nick De'ath, chairman of the Norwich City Centre Licensing Forum and landlord of the Unthank Arms, said he was expecting 2011 to be another competitive year for pubs.

He said: 'As a landlord, this year has been a bit better than last year and has ended with a good Christmas period. Next year is going to be a tight year and there will be once again huge competition between bars, pubs, restaurants and off-trade sales. Speaking from the licensing forum, it's been a tough year and it's been difficult for operators, but better than last year.'

Norfolk has seen a boom in microbreweries forming since the start of the recession and Sharon Chatten, marketing manager at Woodforde's, said their sales were 5pc up on 2009.

She said: 'We attribute it to the consistent flavour and quality of our products. In 2010, we brewed just over five million pints and, as ever, Christmas has proved a busy time of year for us.

'Our on-site shop has been extremely busy selling beer and Christmas gifts and our seasonal brew Tinsel Toes has sold out, even after scheduling additional brews back in November.

'That said, we are very much committed to supporting our local landlords and as such will be launching our East Anglian Ale Trail in summer 2011, which will encourage people from our region to visit a wide selection of pubs across Norfolk as well as Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.'

The Evening News has been urging punters to return to pubs in our Love Your Local campaign.

Next year we are introducing a new and exciting weekly feature to the campaign. We will have a 'Pub of the Week' where we focus on one city pub. We will find out the history of the pub, the stories behind the people who run it, and talk to the locals about why they love it. Publicans who would like their premises to be our 'Pub of the Week' can email David Bale at david.bale2@archant.co.uk.

To see more stories from the campaign visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/ loveyourlocal.