21st birthdays among the plans for the future of the bars

Over the past academic year, some significant changes have been made to the College Bars – some immediately noticeable, some not so noticeable. There has been a substantial increase in the variety of food offered in the bars, while a new management structure saw bars lose their individual licencees.

Jo Hardman, Head of Commercial Services at the University, however, is not entirely satisfied with where the bars are at present. “They’re not where I’d like them to be,” he told SCAN. “If everything had gone brilliantly right we’d be a lot better off, but there’s a number of reasons why. Are we where we want to be – no. One of the things I’ve always talked about in a University is exit velocity. How you finish the year is very, very important in how you start the next year. Actually, for all the advertising, all the promotion, everything you do, what second and third years say matters arguably more than anything else.”

Hardman was unsurprised by SCAN’s College Bars survey results, which saw Grizedale named the best bar on campus after receiving 29% of the vote. However in 2010, the last time this survey was completed by SCAN, Grizedale Bar had just 5% of the vote. Why does he think the bar has seen this increase in popularity?

“Because when it was first done, those people who were used to what Grizedale was before hated it because it changed. So when things change, there is a general rule it seems that there is often significant backlash. It is very difficult to put change in [where] everybody goes [that’s] amazing. It’s very, very easy to upset people with change.”

As revealed in SCAN earlier this term, Pendle Bar has seen a significant reduction in the times it opens. Hardman was unable to confirm whether the current opening times would continue into next academic year.

“It will be based on what activities are planned in those spaces. So, the more activities [the more time it] will be open.”

However, it is hoped by Commercial Services that these activities will be, at least in part, planned by clubs, societies, and JCR executives.

“I’ve said look. Pendle, it’s events, so if people want to sit down and talk about events next term, there’ll be lots of events in Pendle. But do you know what, we can’t do those on our own. As a 50 year old man – not quite 50 – I’m not the person to come up with the events.”

He continued: “We’ve got two societies, I think it’s two, certainly one society and one other group, who want to do two events in Week 9 and 10 in Pendle. Why? Because it’s a space, they can see it’s not doing anything. It’s not open, brilliant, there’s an opportunity to do something. One of the problems in the past almost was that everywhere was open, but it wasn’t doing anything very interesting, but no one knew that you might be able to do something. So if it’s not open, why don’t we do something? So, you can look at it both ways. I think where you’ve got to be careful what you don’t do is that you don’t run things down to such a level where people don’t think you’re ever interested in doing things.”

When the suggestion was made that this puts the onus of the success of a bar onto student volunteers rather than the University, Hardman played the suggestion down. “I’ve said all along, it’s a partnership. If we have three bars I’d turn around and say no it’s not, with the number of bars that we’ve got, yes it is a partnership. And it isn’t about just the students doing stuff, but to be perfectly honest with you, at the moment, what are we supposed to do? Magically produce events that students want to go to?”

Hardman revealed that plans are in place for packages involving hiring the bars for events such as 21st birthdays. “If you turn round to someone and say, so, you’re going to hold your 21st birthday, where are you going to hold it? How many people would think about holding it in a bar on campus?”

“The bars don’t appear as a place where people think that can happen. Well why? Why on earth? Because we don’t have a history of doing that. Do you want to do something? Ask. Go up to your bar. Ask the person behind the bar, if they don’t know, say: well, can you go and find out for me?”

In terms of the bars’ performance, Hardman says they have “pretty much flatlined” and are performing at a similar level to the previous year. However, he was quick to point that out to be a “positive”.

“What you’re seeing is a shift where daytime is getting better, but night time’s actually getting worse. And that’s not too surprising in many ways. Because we haven’t yet got to that situation where people see this as a viable way to spend an evening. You spend your evening in your flat, and then you might go off campus later on. Where do we fit in with that? Well we can, and there is a perfectly… they’ve done disappointingly. But I’d like to, I’m optimistic that we’ve put the brake on the worst.”

Following the significant reduction in Pendle Bar’s opening times, concerns have been raised that the prospect of bars closing on campus is more realistic than ever before. What circumstances might lead to a bar closing?

“The critical question is, are people using those spaces? If people are using the spaces, and you don’t make a profit in inverted commas, if ten people chose to come to Lancaster University because the bars are amazing, it’s worth a lot of money to the University. The question is if no one’s using them, they cease to even be part of the social fabric. And that’s where we’ve got to, that’s the Pendle problem. When you’ve got five people in it, it’s not providing its social purpose let alone its financial purpose.”

Food has been, on the whole, a success for the college bars this year. “Llama burgers have worked,” Hardman said. “They’re very good I’m told, incredibly tasty, and I’ve heard great things. I was slightly sceptical I have to say. Pies [in Bowland] have worked. The new menu in Fylde in general has worked ok, but not where we want [it] to [be].” He concedes that food in Grizedale hasn’t been as successful: “we’ve never managed to get the food really to work there.”

Hardman told SCAN of some plans for the bars in the next academic year; there will be a greater emphasis on Halloween for example – “crazily one thing that’s never been done successfully on campus is the biggest night of the year now, Halloween”, he said – while he would like to see a food festival in Bowland and possibly the return of the Furness Beer Festival.

LUSU President Ste Smith thinks good progress has been made on the bars this year. He told SCAN: “If we compare the bars now to a year ago, I think we’ve seen a massive improvement. I know from my side, there’s a lot more engagement between University staff and Union sides with regards to the bars, there’s a lot more partnership working with JCRs and the Postgraduate board and their bar staff. I think that’s really positive.

“You need to keep an eye on it though. Pendle Bar isn’t open very often. How long is it going to be until a bar maybe gets closed? What we need to do is make sure we are really working as hard as we can to carry on that relationship, making sure we’re getting students into our bars and using them. We’ve made a good start this year as a team: Union, students, officers, University, bar staff, SCRs. The last thing we want to see is bar closures.”

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