Increasing costs have forced at least five pubs to close their doors on a daily basis in Britain, but now the locals are fighting back to save their favorite watering holes.
A simple white t-shirt proclaiming "Save the George Tavern" has become the symbol of support for one threatened establishment in London's East End, with model Kate Moss and singer Amy Winehouse among those fighting for its survival.
AdvertisementThe George Tavern is a local institution. A pub has stood on the site on Commercial Road since 1654, and the existing building that went up in 1891 is a landmark in a largely deprived part of the capital.
All manner of punters visit to sip whisky on its well-worn leather seats or a cold beer at the outdated bar, but also to hear live music in the upstairs rooms that have hosted everyone from the Rolling Stones to Duran Duran.
But the pub, despite its reputation, is under threat from a proposed development of low-cost housing right next door.
"It would be like attaching a Tesco (supermarket) to the Tower of London," said Deborah Coughlin, assistant manager of The George.
The new apartments would be so close that residents' complaints about the regular concerts would be inevitable, without a doubt condemning the pub to closure, tavern manager Pauline Forster told AFP.
But when the building plans first surfaced, Forster took action, calling her musician friends who had played at The George to rally their support.
It was Winehouse, the troubled Grammy award-winning soul singer, who came up the idea for the t-shirts.
Since then, they have been worn by Moss, actor Ian McKellen -- who played Gandalf in the 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy -- and most recently American singer and actress Grace Jones.
A petition was signed by 600 people and in June, the local authorities refused the developers planning permission. A success -- but the fight continues, as the developers have appealed, saying there is still a "need for cheap housing".
According to the British Beer and Pub Association, five pubs close every day in Britain. There are currently 57,000, down from 69,000 in 1980.
But the numbers don't necessarily illustrate the impact. For many Britons, the pub can be a home away from home, part of the weekly, if not daily, routine to relax, meet friends, play darts. In some localities, the pub, or "local", might offer more a sense of community attachment than the church or other institutions.
"Over 30 percent of adults, around 14 million people, socialise in a pub at least once a week," the Association said. And "85 percent of visitors to the United Kingdom prefer British pubs to the bars in their own country."
The industry body blames declining custom, with the economic squeeze and changing behaviour meaning many people now prefer to stay at home, as well as rising costs.
But the pub managers contend the biggest threat is from property developers.
"They wanted to get rid of us to build a fire exit, a fucking fire exit!", recalls Robert Collins of his efforts to keep open the Nell Gwynne, a pub in central London that he has run for the past 11 years.
With its brightly painted red exterior, pots of pink geraniums, fireplace and traditional square windows, the pub -- named after King Charles II's mistress -- is a 16th-century architectural gem tucked behind the Strand.
But in the upper floors of the building, developers wanted to build offices. They needed a fire exit, which looked like the end for the pub.
"People were really upset," Collins said.
Such was Nell's popularity, however, that when a customer set up an online petition to save the pub, two thousand people signed it -- prompting the developers to abandon their plans and give the pub a new five-year lease.
Collins remains wary of the pub's future, however, saying: "I'd like to say we'll be here forever but come back in five years."
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