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Do you still have a local? Almost a quarter of our pubs have closed since turn of the millennium

From Left: Nigel Davies, Jane Edrupt, Mary Seward (Deputy Mayor of North Walsham), Richard Cornwall and Sue Squires. Picture: Maurice Gray

From Left: Nigel Davies, Jane Edrupt, Mary Seward (Deputy Mayor of North Walsham), Richard Cornwall and Sue Squires. Picture: Maurice Gray

Maurice Gray

The number of small pubs in the region has plummeted since the turn of the millennium, figures show, as consumers demand more than the standard pint.

The Economies of Ale report from the Office for National Statistics shows that, overall, Norfolk and Waveney have lost 23pc of their pubs since 2001, down from 860 to 660, slightly below the United Kingdom-wide figure of 26pc.

Areas which have lost the most pubs include Broadland, 35pc, Great Yarmouth, 33pc and west Norfolk, 26pc, though Norwich has lost 24pc and Breckland, South Norfolk and Waveney have 20pc less. In north Norfolk, that figure is just 5pc.

But when it comes to smaller pubs, those with up to nine employees, the number has plummeted from 705 to 415 in Norfolk and Waveney - a drop of 41pc.

For larger pubs, those with 10 or more employees, the figures - which are rounded to the nearest five - show the number has actually increased from 150 to 250 - a remarkable 67pc.

Norfolk entrepreneur Henry Watt with Lacons Brewery managing director Mick Carver outside The Honingham Buck. Photo: SubmittedNorfolk entrepreneur Henry Watt with Lacons Brewery managing director Mick Carver outside The Honingham Buck. Photo: Submitted

It reflects the national picture, and while many smaller pubs may have closed - with figures dropping noticeably since the recession - many may today be classified as larger pubs after recruiting more staff, perhaps to serve food.

Henry Watt runs The Honingham Buck, a larger pub which is now in partnership with Lacons Brewery.

It has built up a strong reputation as a place for food-lovers, and has rooms for overnight stays, both of which Mr Watt said he believed was vital for many pubs.

MORE: Pub closures in Norfolk: 145 shut since 2010

“It is essential that you have a good food offering,” he said, “and if you can add bedrooms that’s even better.

“The wider you can spread your net the more appeal you can have.”

Friends having a drink in a pub. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/william87Friends having a drink in a pub. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/william87

He said the majority of visitors did have food, but that the link-up with Lacons meant there was also a strong ale following.

Across Norfolk and Waveney, the number of people employed in pubs has risen from 6,150 in 2001 up to 7,450 today, suggestive of a move towards larger workforces in fewer pubs.

It is supported by data from the Living Costs and Food Survey, which shows that the proportion of an average household expenditure spent on alcohol drinks, bought out, has fallen from 2.2pc in 2001/2 to 1.4pc in 2016/17.

Meanwhile, the amount spent on restaurant and café meals has increased from 2.7pc to 3.4pc.

Ian Stamp, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk CAMRA branch, said pubs had to overcome several obstacles, including beer duty, changing social norms and the rise of pub companies.

He said: “Many businesses are moving on from just being about beer. They still sell pretty much everything but they do generally have to have some sort of attraction. It certainly helps if they provide something else, such as food.

“People expect to get more for their money - they’re not going to spend it on any old stuff, and want something nice.”

But he said it did depend on geography, with many pubs in the city centre, and on the edge of Norwich, still relying on trade from drinks.

Ian Stamp, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk CAMRA branch. Photo: SubmittedIan Stamp, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk CAMRA branch. Photo: Submitted

“The recession saw pub companies push up rents and the prices of beer, which made it more difficult to make any money,” he said. “Tax increases have caused problems, as well as the changing social habits which affect the whole thing.

“There are still plenty of pubs in the area around the edge of the city which are wet-led and specialise in 30, 40 beers, and they seem to be doing very well.

“But if you go further out it is completely the other way round. There, food is a big part of the offer.”

Nationally, the number of pubs around Britain has fallen from 52,500 in 2001 to 38,815.

Brigid Simmonds, the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said: “Unless more is done to help alleviate the cost pressures pubs face… They will continue to close and jobs will be lost.”

MORE: ‘I’ve had enough’ - pub company under fire after four Norwich landlords stand down over lease talks

‘It gives us an edge’

The Coach and Horses, just outside the city centre, has long been a popular spot.

On Thorpe Road, it is a stone’s throw from Carrow Road, shares a site with Chalk Hill Brewery and has a full menu of lunch, dinner and Sunday roast options.

Isabel Blythe, from the pub, which has more than 10 employees, said they believed food began to become a focus roughly 15 years ago, but that it was now a key part of business.

“Most of our business is still drinks,” she said, “but having food and our own brewery is massively important to getting higher turnover and is what gives us an edge.”

She said while not everybody who visited the pub had food, their busiest times were around lunch and dinner.

“We know we do have people who come in specifically for a meal,” she said.

They also host events including the Coach Carnival and Burns Night celebrations.

A focus on real ale

A pint-sized pub, thought to be one of the county’s smallest, is still going strong 18 months after opening.

The Hop In micro-pub, in North Walsham, was opened last summer in the former home of a taxi base.

Joint landlord Richard Cornwall said the pub seats roughly 12 people downstairs, and another 15 upstairs.

The pub doesn’t serve food, host live music or even have a Wifi connection - with visitors instead focusing on real ale and conversation.

“We have a regular turnover of people coming in,” he said, “and holidaymakers come in as well.

“People can come with their takeaway meals and we provide cutlery, but it’s about the beer and talking to each other.”

He said this year the pub, on Market Street, had hosted its first summer beer festival and was listed in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide in September.

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