8:00AM BST 14 Oct 2014
Villages with a thriving local pub have more community spirit and stronger local businesses than those which do not, a new study claims.
An analysis of community life in almost 2,800 small rural parishes in England found that those with a thriving pub are between 40 and 50 per cent more likely also to community social events or activities such as cricket matches or village fetes.
Significantly, the 18-month study led by Dr Ignazio Cabras, an economist based at Northumbria University and University of York, concluded that pubs are more important to village life even than the local parish church.
It concludes that although the rate at which local pubs have been closing significantly increased during the financial crisis, small rural communities are conversely relying on their pub to provide a for the social side of village life more than ever.
But it warns that conversely pubs are coming under greater pressure as the fashion for drinking at home spreads from town to country.
Many pubs are, in turn, being forced to turn their attention to tourists for their survival, reducing their focus on those around them.
The study, funded by the British Academy aims to be one of the first to establish by academic means that pubs are essential to promoting community cohesion in rural areas.
Dr Ignazio Cabras, a specialist in complex systems analysis, used existing data to assess how patterns of village life differ between those which have a pub and those which do not.
He concluded that the presence of a pub dramatically increased the likihood of a village having community events, ranging from cricket or football games to art exhibitions and musical events.
It follows a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research which concluded that pubs boost the income of other village businesses by around £80,000 a year but also generate up to £120,000 worth of “social benefit” to rural areas.
Dr Ignazio Cabras said: “We see rural pubs depicted on TV, such as The Woolpack, as the local meeting point and hub for the community to engage with each other.
“This has now been proven as an accurate depiction of life in rural England.”
He added: “There are now just 49,000 pubs in Britain today, compared with 69,000 in 1980, as public houses all over the country are hit by factors deterring visitors including a general reduction in customer spending and more competitive alcohol prices in off-licence retailers.
“In rural areas, this decline has been exacerbated by smaller populations and fewer opportunities in terms of public transport, which make these areas less attractive compared to urban areas from a business perspective.
“However, it appears that the pub has increased its importance as the main hub in the community’s infrastructure, offering support to a wide range of activities. Pubs function as physical incubators which foster engagement and involvement among the community, as well as creating jobs for local people and local suppliers.
“The closure of rural pubs is strongly associated with the decline of social drinking and increasing levels of alcohol consumption in private premises. It is vital the Government supports rural pubs with appropriate policies to ensure our rural way of life is maintained.”