“Your readers have locals. Ask them how many landlords they’ve had in the past ten years.”
George Scott is the manager of the Bakers Arms in Bugbrooke and has campaigned in Westminster against pub companies’ business practices for years.
In particular, he has railed against the fact that well over a dozen pubs owned by Enterprise Inns alone have closed in Northamptonshire over the past seven years.
And alas, he is now about to become one of the reams of statistics he knows back to front. The Bakers Arms is closing too, and it’s no help to George that he can rattle off the reasons, and even pinpoint the first rumblings of trouble.
Enterprise Inns admits it may“from time-to-time identify a pub that may no longer have a long-term future in our estate” but says it is a legitimate part of its ongoing business model.
This is true, and the record shows that companies such as Enterprise Inns bought thousands of pubs on high-interest loans in the 1990s after the Government ruled that brewery companies could not own large numbers outright.
Then came the smoking ban followed by the financial crash. Pubs became less profitable overnight.
Inevitably, over time the new breed of owners increased the mortgages and the beer prices to maintain their bottom line, and the publicans had no choice but to pay because of their contracts.
Now pub-owning companies make more from beer than the pubs or the brewers do.
Mr Scott was involved in a court case against Punch Taverns in 2011 when they charged him almost double his rate of rent at his pub. That was just the start of a run which has seen more than 20 county pubs vanish from the map – either closed, converted or flattened.
Others limp on in ever-decreasing circles.
Bakers Arms manager Graham Brittain said: “It’s called churning. The landlords stay for a few years. Then when they’ve put all their money into it and they’ve got nothing left, they have to walk away and a new landlord comes in.”
With the exception of Mr Brittain, every pub landlord or former pub landlord the Chronicle & Echo spoke to asked to remain anonymous.
One former pub owner said: “It was hard work to be tied to a company like Enterprise Inns. It felt like they were there to get asmuch out of you as they could. You couldn’t buy your beer from anyone else but them, but you could have got it £60 cheaper or more from a cash and carry. But they monitored you.
“We lost a tens of thousands of pounds in the end. We first bought the pub to save it from shutting. We had a bit of money to put into it to renovate it. But in the end, we had to sell it at a loss. There just wasn’t any profit in the beer and we couldn’t sell enough.
“I’m glad to be out of it. They appeared to never want to help, when you’d think we were all in the same boat together. If you walk out, they put a manager in to hold it for a few weeks until someone new takes it up and it all starts again. I see it happen all the time.
“Another nearby pub has had four or five managers in the last few years.”
Another anonymous pub landlord said: “I’ve been trying to get out of my lease with Enterprise for over four years but they kibosh it every time. They come in to the pub looking to see if you are buying outside of your tie. It’s supposed to be a partnership, but it never felt like one. I didn’t feel like they cared about the people.”
Northamptonshire pubs recently put up for sale or closed by Enterprise Inns include the King William IV in Kingsthorpe, the Old Red Lion in Kislingbury, the Red Lion in Fosters Booth and the Butchers Arms in Greens Norton.
Sally Beardsworth, district councillor for Kingsthorpe, said: “The pub is the heart of the community. It’s where people meet to talk and hold events. You miss that when it’s gone.
“Each village has to hang on to their pub and they should think of different ways to do that.
“I know of some pubs who are introducing board games so people can talk to each other and not sit there on their mobile phones,” she added.
“Quite often, it’s not the pub owners’ fault. The business rates and costs are too high and untenable.
“Once you lose a facility like that it’s very hard to get back.”
Despite refusing to say how many pubs it had closed in recent years, Enterprise insists it remains “committed to supporting the many existing pubs we have in Northampton”.
Enterprise is far from the only firm closing pubs in Northampton, however.
James Hill, district councillor for Rectory Farm, fought against the closure of his local in 2016 and has studied more than most the impact of the loss of these special buildings that are also community hubs. Northampton Borough Council received more than 500 letters objecting to plans to turn The Barn Owl, in Olden Road, into a Co-Op supermarket.
“I’m very disappointed that so many pubs are closing,” he said. “They aren’t just buildings. They are a hub for their communities.
“Companies should feel a sense of duty to find an option to keep it open as a pub.
“There’s been a change in the way people drink, but I’ve seen also seen pubs change too - to become more viable,” he added.
"The spirit in the community went with the pub. I miss it. It was a second home to some people. You couldn’t replicate it.”
Clement Chunga, councillor for Brookside, has seen three pubs close in recent years, (The Barn Owl as well as the Pig & Whistle and the Mill Wheel).
Mr Chunga said: “It’s a shame as in many ways they were the heart of the community and a focal point for socialising.
“A few empty pubs have been put to good use by turning them into a community centre or something of that nature but others have just been derelict and are now eyesores. The former Tanners Pub is going to be knocked down for housing.”
Back at the Bakers Arms, the regulars still have their cherished haven, but they are beginning the now-common contemplation of life without a local.
One customer said: “It’s £3.70 for a pint here. Graham can’t afford anything else. You’d think they’d discount the rent and have some money coming in, rather than shut it down and
have no money coming in at all.”
His middle-aged friend was in agreement: “My lads don’t go to a pub. They go to a house and drink there. Society has been pushed away from the pub. Here we know the landlord. There’s a community in a pub. The others are just restaurants.”
Another contemplated sunny weekends with no local to spend it at. “Summer’s coming. This place is great and busy in the summer. Now it will close in May. What a waste,” he added.