Saving Pubs Toolkit - Part 2

Starting the Campaign

In Saving Pubs Toolkit - Part 1 we advised on information gathering and getting ahead of the game. How many readers have since submitted nominations for their local pub to be registered as an Asset of Community Value? We know of several who have unfortunately been knocked back. If this is your experience, do not be disheartened. Apply again! There is no restriction on the number of nominations you can make, or how many times you add supplementary information to a nomination where a Council remains reluctant. It is not uncommon for Councils to ask for more information or evidence about how your particular local furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the community, as required by Section 88 of the Localism Act. Our previous article on getting ahead of the game should provide you with enough pointers for assembling and compiling the essential information about your favourite pub. Forewarned is forearmed. In this edition we describe some of the tools and techniques used in mounting a really successful campaign.

Campaigns: Forming & Sustaining Never underestimate how physically and mentally exhausting saving a pub can be. Not a day will go by in which you do not feel like packing it all in and hiding under your duvet. You need to sustain yourself by constantly dreaming of the Moon under Water and how good that first pint in your ‘saved’ pub will taste. Those of us who have been there, fought the fight, faced the struggle, and overcome the doubt, can attest to that; it’s an indescribable sensation.

Gearing up for a Fight In fighting to save a pub, time is of the essence. The instant you realise your pub is threatened you need to press that campaign launch button. There really is no time to lose. Well-orchestrated and high profile campaigns have not only deterred or delayed developers in submitting planning applications or implementing changes of use but in some cases they have scared developers away. As soon as Tesco Stores Ltd felt the strength of opposition at the Wheatsheaf in Tooting, they withdrew their interest and moved aside for Antic to take over the pub. The ACV and a good deal of publicity at the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham forced the house builder to abandon his plans and sell the pub to the local community. The might of London’s LGBT+ community coming down firmly behind the iconic Black Cap in Camden has so far resulted in two planning refusals and the scaring off of a café operator. It would appear that the pub is about to fall back into the hands of a pub operator. Campaigns have worked, and do work, all over Britain. Pub lovers need to get themselves organised and be prepared to dig in for the long haul. There can be no half measures. To paraphrase Churchill, it will be necessary to ‘…wage war by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.’ Be prepared for the blood, sweat, toil and tears. There is a huge amount of money at stake for developers. On the other hand, there is a huge amount of heritage, culture and community cohesion at stake for us. CAMRA loves pubs. And we embrace those with passion and dedication and resourcefulness in fighting to keep them.

Picking your Team It is always wise to play to your strengths. Build a coalition of the willing but try to ensure you have a good range of skills on your team. Planners, solicitors, barristers, politicians, journalists, writers and general organisers are the skills you will need. Any general rabble rousers are also a force for good, provided the message remains positive and focussed. It is a good idea to appoint a chairman or figurehead. This needs to be a strong leader. Pub campaigns can be very stressful environments and good leadership and order will be essential in keeping the campaign on track. Your next most important role is the campaign secretary. In a virtual team, communications are vital. Select someone who is a fussy details person. Engineers or accountants are both ideally suited to this role, as are literary scholars and historians. The secretary needs to make certain that all the ‘i’s and ‘t’s are dotted and crossed respectively and that everyone is kept in the loop. These days a social media officer is a given. You should exploit social media not only to communicate with your own executive team, subject to security and privacy considerations, but also your wider network of campaigners and the public at large, including local and national media, whom you will need to manage skilfully to retain them as allies, paint you in a positive light, and keep the story alive. It is quite an art.

The Campaign Leadership In order to keep your campaign slick and efficient, with decisions being made in a timely manner, it is best to keep a small executive committee, limited to the essential roles of chairman, secretary, media relations and perhaps two others e.g. treasurer and planning advisor. This executive will set the high level strategy and act as a steering committee to direct the campaign. It is vital that they have the support and trust of the wider campaign and they need to have an unquestioning belief in the cause and be prepared to always act in the interests of saving the pub, to the cost of almost all other considerations. It can be tough at the top. When significant decisions need to be made, e.g. opting to raise funds in order to bid to purchase the pub if sold, or deciding to join a planning appeal as a Rule 6 party., or joining an appeal against an ACV registration, the executive needs to judge if these are covered by an existing mandate and whether such moves will continue to enjoy the support of the wider community. To that end it is a good idea to periodically renew your mandate in such matters and the easiest way is to communicate with the full campaign via email. There is rarely much value in inviting the wider campaign to face to face meetings, unless there is a matter which requires significant discussion and might attract a range of views, or benefit from a range of ideas. Exploit the tools available in the digital age.

Digital Communications A campaign website should be one of your earliest priorities. It is amazing how much external media interest can be marshalled via such a platform. The internet is the first place journalists look now for a story. Your website need not be elaborate. A simple Wordpress blog will be quite sufficient. It is probably worth paying for a meaningful domain e.g. www.savetheroyaloak.org (a real life pub campaigning website; sadly there are hundreds!) or equivalent. These domains are not normally as expensive as you might think. Your website should be used for regular updates to your wider campaign and other followers. It is also your shop window for the media, planners, politicians, and of course the developer that you are battling. On that basis make sure it looks professional, eye-catching and stylish. Your website should be linked to your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts where applicable. Find a friendly graphic designer to come up with a brand identity for your campaign and use this throughout. Corporate imagery can be very powerful. The same logo can then be printed on flyers, banners, placards, window posters, business cards and any press releases you put out from time to time.

Weight of Numbers Having established your executive committee, brand identity, website and social media accounts, your next task is to rapidly grow your support network. You should always make contact with your local branch of CAMRA and ask to be put in touch with the pub protection officer or chairman. CAMRA loves to help campaigners who help themselves. We cannot be everywhere saving every single pub but we do have bucket loads of expertise to share. Your local branch can help with social media interest and at the very least we will gladly report details of your campaign in these pages. Any tweets in the early days should direct people to your website where it should be immediately obvious what it is you require people to do. Any pub lover will have natural sympathy with your campaign but most ordinary folk do not know what they can practically do in order to help. If you want people to object to a planning application, write to their Councillor or MP, or support an ACV nomination, you need to give them clear instructions.

Petitions and Pitfalls Petitions are ubiquitous these days, particularly online petitions hosted by change.org or 38degrees. They can be a useful tool but you need to be aware of their limitations. In objecting to planning applications, petitions hold limited value. Many Councils will treat a petition of 15,000 signatures effectively as one objection. It is far better to get people to write short individual objections in their own words. Additionally, when people have signed a petition online, which takes around one minute, they believe that is their contribution made. Job done. Box ticked. Move on. But as a means of keeping in touch with supporters, they are very useful. Change.org allows the petition owner to post regular updates and as your list of signatories grows, so does your list of contacts. Be careful not to bombard supporters with updates too regularly. Only pester them with very significant news or a request when you need them to do something urgently. Try not to phrase a petition in a negative context. Avoid ‘the Council must NOT allow’ but instead try ‘we urge the Council to register the Royal Oak as an Asset of Community Value’. Decision makers always prefer being encouraged to do something, rather than to not do something. Stay positive. Whether you use a paper petition, online petition, a manual email list, or simply rely on your website and the assumption that your supporters will regularly check it for updates, following a prompt via Twitter, never lose sight of the fact that your objective is bums on seats. So long as you have informed leadership who can articulate what it is that needs to be done, in layman’s terms if necessary, your foot soldiers are your power base. It is not a given that hundreds of planning objections will definitely result in your pub being saved from conversion or demolition, but it certainly helps. The planning system is geared up to resist the loss of ‘valued’ pubs. The decision makers are politicians or their agents. People power is very persuasive. Always let your ward Councillors know about your campaign. Attend one of their surgeries or email them. Keep on at them if you get no response initially; it is their job to represent the interests of the community. Having local Councillors on your side in planning matters is of inestimable value.

We will close on a short case study from outside of London. The 16th century Chequer Inn, in the village of Ash near Dover in Kent, was sold by Punch Taverns to a developer. This sale was in spite of two offers for the property from pub operators. The developer applied to turn the Grade II listed ACV pub into a single 6 bedroom house. Locals mourned the loss of the pub, which closed in 2014, but were led to believe by the Council that the ACV status was worthless as the pub was simply not viable (have we not heard that phrase somewhere before?). The ACV status was revoked and the officer report recommended the grant of consent to turn into a house. When this was brought to our attention by a journalist and avid London Drinker reader, we noted that only six objections against the proposal had been lodged on the Council website but no decision had been reached. A bit of campaigning and some technical advice to a particularly motivated local then resulted in some 95 objections within the space of a month. The officer report was revised but still recommended converting the pub. At a recent planning meeting at Dover Council offices, some 150 villagers turned out with placards and banners, supported by the local CAMRA branch and a sprinkling of celebrities. Councillors voted unanimously to refuse consent. The developer has now put the pub on the market, and it has recently been listed again as an ACV. Swift and accurate communications driven by strong leadership were able to mobilise some 300 previously apathetic villagers into action. The clear show of support had the desired effect and, so far, the planning system has worked for the thirsty pub lovers of Ash. The planning system is your greatest friend in saving pubs but can also be a formidable foe. You must learn to control it and exploit it to your own ends. That will be the subject of Saving Pubs Toolkit - Part 3.