Pub and be damned!

We invited Megan Jagger, digital marketing apprentice at the Soulful Leadership Podcast, to write for Pleece & Co about her ideal ‘Do What You Want Day’ blog piece. Luckily, Megan chose to go down the pub, which has given us an idea… That’s the spirit!

Do What You Want Day #DWYWD is our way of giving over the content agenda to people we know and respect as well as giving them a chance to explore their creativity around a subject or interest they’re passionate about.

Over to you, Megan, mine’s a Harvey’s…

Pubs have been places of refuge for centuries for the people of England, providing an essential communal space for people to gather, talk, sing, drink – and sometimes fight! – their way through tough times. This quote references the status of pubs in Britain during World War 2:

“ Such houses are particularly needed now for, among all British institutions, inns and taverns are of the greatest value in the fostering of an optimistic and balanced outlook on life and the counteracting of the twin evils of depression and defeatism” (Morning Advertising, 2019) 

Although we are over 80 years on from the times of that quote, pubs have remained an escape from the uncertainty and sadness life can bring, particularly in times of monumental change. 

The world is always rapidly changing, but pubs appear to be a constant in the scramble of life. Whilst as a society we’re limping out the back end of the Covid pandemic (I hope!) and there’s increased talk of the Metaverse, which appears to strip away the need to even leave the house anymore; I feel more people will value social spaces such as pubs that bit more. An article by Hitchcok (2022) highlighted this idea of stabilisers in a changing world and that perhaps to understand the future we need to look back. I mean people were actually predicting flying cars and robot hairdressers, rather than a global pandemic and VR, Metaverse supermarkets.

So with this in mind when approached by Gary to write a ‘Do What You Want Day’ blog piece I thought:  ‘Honestly? I just want to go to the pub’. For many areas, pubs are the metaphorical and literal watering hole; community is built and friendships are formed, frustrations are vented. I remember in April 2021 pubs were re-opening for the first time in months and although I’d spent the last 6 months drinking with the same friends in student digs we still queued 2 hours to get into The Oak because it opened at 00:01 – because it was a pub!! and it was finally open!! The things we do for a bit of normality…

For Poets Corner, Hove, where I live, pubs have become pillars of the community. Poets Corner is said to be bounded by 4 rough points: the railway line to the north, Portland Road to the south, Sackville Road to the east, and Alpine Road to the west. The area is very popular, almost a ‘Hanover of Hove’, and has expanded with the boundaries blurring. Most importantly, within these boundaries are a plethora of pubs!

Coming from a place of decline, Poet’s Corner was developed from the 1880s onwards and has changed very little. Over the years it became shabby and run down, but a group of determined residents changed the narrative, with a vision to create Poets corner as a desirable place to live. 

So, as a newbie to the area, I went to visit a few of these communal houses to get a feel for how community and friendship have built in the area, particularly over a pint post-mid-pandemic. With a 175% rise in pub closures since 2019 (Sky News, 2021) it’s both miraculous and exciting that a small area like Poet’s corner (roughly 0.5 km2) has 8 pubs open and thriving. 

Pubs I visited:

The Exchange – Community Pub 

The Poets Corner Smoke and Ale House 

The Watch Makers Arms – micro-pub 

 

The Exchange Community Pub 

Tucked away near Hove station, nestling amongst quiet residential streets, it’s easy to miss this pub. But those who know it, certainly love it. I have been there perhaps too many times but it’s a short four houses down from mine so it would be rude not to!  The bar staff offers a warm welcome and very friendly conversation and you feel like you want to pull them up a chair at your table. 

The pub is a very open but warm space, featuring that classic unique Brighton (and Hove!) gritty aesthetic: miscellaneous artwork and photos, fairy lights, bare wood, the 70s fringed lampshades, and lava lamps. The décor also features art from their own general manager, giving it a real family living room feel. However, not everyone has been so respectful of this pub cum art Gallery. Manager Cormac Eddery told The Argus the story of a boozy art heist in which a couple came back and stole art from his pubs on three separate occasions. Luckily Eddery set up a trap and caught them! 

The pub underwent a massive renovation when taken over by Eddery and flipped from a male-dominated sports bar to a family-friendly, community-orientated local.

I can’t go without mentioning the garden; in the summer it’s an absolute gem of a pub garden with nooks and booths to share some local ale in the Sussex sun. The Exchange sells and stocks Laine Co. – Brighton’s biggest independent craft beer brand and pretty popular around the city. It’s great to see them stocking local and I feel from visiting the pubs in the area you won’t even be competition unless you’re stocking Sussex local tipples. 

Overall the Exchange offers a cosy and cosmopolitan experience, pulling together customers from all walks of life.

The Poets Ale and Smoke House 

The cosy horseshoe-shaped pub was very welcoming and bustling especially on our Friday night visit. The food was a meat-eater’s dream with their American-inspired smokehouse menu. There was a pretty healthy selection of local Harvey’s ales and pub fan favourites. Although I have to say the Poets felt the most timeworn, yet charming. 

You could certainly feel the history of the pub in its features and beams. The walls were lined with tributes to a past Poet’s corner, which is noted as a unique area in the war, hosting 3 military hospitals, residents were confronted with the horrors of WW2 daily (myguideBrighton, 2019). Renewing the need for a community-centric pub, to escape the horrors of daily life. 

The roads and area itself get their name from the Shirley family who once lived at Preston Manor, and owned land in Preston and Hove which became the Stanford Estate. It was the Shirley family that sold the land to developer George Gallard (the “George” in “George Street”) in 1872. Shirley Street, and the rest of the Hove Drove Estate, were developed in the 1870s (Latest, 2022)

I could jump to conclusions and say there was less of a community feel at this pub, compared to others, but in many ways, this pub hosted lots of micro-communities who don’t necessarily cross paths or share conversations. There were many different groups- the after-work office drinks that drag into the night, the rowdy group watching the football, the couple in the back enjoying a quiet drink (oh that was me!) and the locals at the bar who are their own type of community. A place for everyone, indeed; isn’t that what pubs are all about? Welcoming, non-judgemental, inclusive. If not, they should be.

The Watch Makers Arms Micro Pub 

As we walked in I found myself venturing through the middle of a game of ‘Toad in the hole’ where a community of locals cheer and wince at the game in full swing. You feel as though you’ve walked into someone’s living room and they’ve invited all their friends round for a pint of their new homebrew (but the invite is certainly open to you). It’s pleasantly striking as you walk in, that the vibe is so different to any other pub, they have no music or television playing and you hear the light chatter from groups around the pub. This pub truly has socialising at its heart. Taking away distractions and seating people together, politely forces you to be human again and talk! A basic human need and something I feel was lost during the pandemic. 

Co-Owner Ruth approach us quickly and was more than happy to share the story of ‘The Watchmakers Arms’. Starting in 2015 based on micro-breweries in Kent, the couple started the pub and since then they have gone from strength to strength. Ruth noted:

“[it’s all about community with our pub! We’ve become a hub for socialising with so many regulars who we know well and have become dear friends of ours]”. 

She shared a touching story about a regular who passed last January and it was clear that Watchmakers is a real watering hole for a community of locals with shared sorrows and stories. Out of that dark time they truly understood what a community of caring individuals they had built. 

Seeing the walls adorned with pump clips you can feel the passion they have for serving up local brews and it doesn’t get much more local than the cask room behind the bar! Co-Owner Rick brews many of their selection himself in the pub. It’s like a beer festival every week; with a ‘coming soon’ board of pump clips it feels like your favourite band announcing a new single.

The Watchmakers certainly has unique look and feel, the walls lined with watches – a reminisce on the building’s past. Low lighting and vines leave you feeling relaxed and comforted. Oh, and they have a pub dog, what more do you want?

Based on my mini pub crawl, I think Pubs will continue to be bastions of the community in Poets corner and across the UK for years to come; as they have done over centuries filled with war, political divide and much more… 

I believe this is due to their unique ability to house conversation, bring strangers together and stitch a community out of the small groups and individuals that cross the pub threshold. Stories and communities like these exist all over the country and I’m sure you don’t have to search far for them. 

So what are you waiting for? I’m literally convincing you to go to the pub (but look out for the flying cars!)