Last orders in GrimethorpeFebruary 15, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Posted in British Politics, Working Class Britain | 3 Comments
Earlier this month, a pub in Barnsley caused quite a stir when it ran a ‘penny for a pint’ promotion. For a limited time, anyone who ordered a measure of spirits could have a pint of Tetley’s bitter for just 1p – which, rather conveniently, is the most I’d want to pay for the stuff anyway.
Inevitably, the news was picked up by the local and national press, who all called MPs, council leaders and health experts and had them condemn how Barnsley’s boozers were being led astray to binge on dodgy bitter. No doubt it furrowed the brows of ministers anxious to tax or legislate the nation into sobriety, and it surely gave the permanently smug Keith Vaz reason to think that his idea of banning drinks promotions was even more necessary than before. But as the newspapers churned out comment and TV crews filmed bemused locals sluping the demon broth, just seven miles down the road, there was a much bigger scandal brewing; the quiet death of yet another pub at the heart of a working class community.
Last week, Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare was forced into administration. Although its name harks back to a contentious and bygone era, there was nothing antiquated or irrelevant about this social club; all the profits from the bar were put towards funding those activities for young people which everyone agrees are needed, but nobody ever wants to pay for. There are football, rugby and cricket teams, a boxing club, first aid club, majorettes and – most importantly – a junior brass band. All provide a positive outlet for kids’ physical and mental energy, all offer a much better alternative to congregating outside corner shops, collecting ASBOS, and all were possible thanks to the club.
But, as I’ve noted twice before, today’s Britain is not a good place to try to make a living from serving alcohol. Thanks to the smoking ban, the constant tax hikes, the rise of cheap supermarket booze, the increases in energy prices and one wrecking ball of a recession, there weren’t enough profits for the club to keep itself going, let alone all the other groups which relied on its premises. We could argue into eternity over which of these factors had the most impact, but it certainly doesn’t reflect well on this decade that a club which survived the winter of discontent, the strike of ’84 and the unforgiveable consequences of the pit closures couldn’t survive in the current climate.
If there is a wider point which can be dragged out of this story, it would be this: if the state wants to crack down on alcohol consumption because of the contribution to ill health and social evils, those decisions will also make life difficult for establishments which are the cause of genuine social good. The same policies which restrict nationwide pub chains interested only in the bottom line will also restrict those clubs which run evenings for pensioners or activities for children. Is the hope that more tax will force Wetherspoons to charge more for a pint really worth it if it also contributes to the demise of places like this? I suspect not.
In Grimethorpe, the community has lost a focal point, a bridge between its past and its future, and a place where kids can use all their spare time and energy to do something positive. They’ll survive, of course, just as they’ve survived far worse in the past, but a place which has endured so many low blows over the years has just lost something precious, and which might well prove irreplaceable.