Is the closure of Pendle Bar acceptable?

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Some would say it’s for the best. Others would cry out that it’s terrible. I think it’s time to be somewhat more realistic: this is still only the beginning of a spiralling downward journey that our bars first embarked upon some years ago.

I’d like to say that the news of Pendle Bar’s “closure” came as a shock, but unfortunately it didn’t. It doesn’t take a genius to notice the grave situation that our bars are currently facing on campus. We can all speak of the empty sofas and stale atmosphere, but I do feel there’s a certain degree of expectation that our bars should be packed to the rafters each and every night. This simply isn’t going to happen, regardless of how much we dwell on the assumed golden age of divine pub popularity.

The bars are in their element for just one week each October. Freshers’ Week for a bar is like a turkey farmer at Christmas. That is, rolling in cash, not feathers. Whilst we’d all like to experience the wonders of Freshers’ Week all year round, these rates of popularity are an anomaly rather than the norm, and we need to get that expectation out of our heads. Management need to be realistic and methodical.

As a giddy young fresher, my reps took me on a campus tour, telling me anything I wanted to know about the university. I asked about Pendle Bar as we walked on by, and in their own words: “Pendle Bar is famous for hosting Pendle Live – it’s kinda their little thing. It’s pretty cool.” The truth is that despite these individual merits and weaknesses, it’s still very rare that students pay our bars a visit. Management are tirelessly attempting to encourage trade and, for the most part, they couldn’t do much more. In fact, I can’t help but feel a degree of sorrow for Pendle in particular; their endless attempts at “regenerating” the place has continued to be met with bitter disappointment.

As Pendle’s efforts have shown over the years, I don’t think the problem lies solely with the bar’s management. I don’t even think we can continue to blame the University’s Commercial Services anymore; their takeover in 2008 may well have ripped these establishments of a somewhat inclusive, family atmosphere, but this downward spiral began longer than five years ago.

Rather than it simply being a case of fixing a dried-up bar, this is a much wider social issue that is deeply rooted in society. Fifty years ago, going to the local for a quick pint on a Friday night would have been the norm. Unfortunately, this activity is in fierce decline. It’s now much cheaper to visit the supermarket for two litres of coke and a bottle of vodka, than to continue handing over money in a bar. According to the Telegraph, a dozen pubs are closing each week in the UK. Perhaps this isn’t the fault of Pendle, its JCR, or the university at all. Perhaps the other bars are close behind.

Adding a couple of acts here and there are merely quick-fixes which will only boost popularity for a night or two: something needs to happen on a much larger scale. Ronnie Rowlands offered an interesting suggestion in the last issue’s postscript: renting the premises out to independent landlords who will then assume ultimate responsibility for its running and success. It seems a decent idea to me. The university would benefit from renting out their space, a private landlord would offer the knowledge and expertise of running a bar, and students would still be able to get a drink without walking down the slope to Grizedale. Result.

Significant structural changes must take place over the coming months, and I hope Pendle’s “regeneration” next year is the last one they have to endure. Until then, the least we can do is encourage people to visit these great campus bars. Whether you’re having a drink before Sugarhouse, or planning to share a pint with friends before making a start on revision, the bars are awaiting for your custom. Don’t just attend your bars when someone threatens them. That would be disastrous.

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