Long before the pandemic, the sight of a disused British pub had become so commonplace as to seem almost banal. In 2018, it was estimated that a quarter of UK pubs had shut over the previous two decades. And last year, the number of closures was put at 994, just under 20 a week.
The roots of this story lay in a range of factors: property development, the often debt-stacked finances of the pub companies who own many premises, and the lifestyle shifts that meant some of us would now rather drink at home and do our socialising via our phones. But the upshot was miserably obvious. Pubs are not to everyone’s taste, and some are lifeless hellholes – but at their best, they offer a kind of everyday fellowship that the communities that lose them tend to miss.
Now, Covid-19 has pushed this saga into an entirely new phase, as pub closures linked to the pandemic find their way into local headlines. The British Beer and Pub Association says that 72% of the businesses in its sector could soon close, and this stark suggestion is accompanied by a biting sense of unfairness. As people in the trade see it, while the end of England’s lockdown might – in theory, at least – offer new hope to some organisers of sporting events and businesses from hairdressers to bookshops, pubs are faced with a continuing mess of impossibility.