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Growth Partners – Engagement Banner Friday Opinion is sponsored by Growth Partners
Fri 20th Jan 2023 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Come as you are: let’s make hospitality a place where everyone is comfortable to be themselves, what we’ll be losing if pubs disappear, crowdfunding should come with a word of warning
Authors: Garry Clarke-Strange, Phil Mellows, Glynn Davis

Come as you are: let’s make hospitality a place where everyone is comfortable to be themselves by Garry Clarke-Strange

We stand side by side with all our customers and team members regardless of gender, race, disability or sexual orientation. But to be clear, this isn’t a crusade, it’s a conversation. It seems all you need do is open a newspaper or go on the internet right now and you see articles around transgender rights and the trans debate. What was once a relatively overlooked topic now drives provocative headlines.

Given the trans community’s journey to being accepted, you’d be forgiven for thinking that any conversations around trans ideology should be encouraged and not criticised. But in reality, many stories are either unhelpful or not supporting the progression we need. They can be harmful to a community fighting to be heard, understood, and more importantly, accepted. That’s why our goal is to openly challenge such conversations, not just within our business but within the wider hospitality industry.

But why should Greene King as a business, or indeed the wider hospitality industry, care so much about minority communities such as the trans community? The answer is simple: our pubs, restaurants and hotels, as well as our breweries and distribution networks that serve them, are at the heart of our local communities, and we need to make them inclusive, safe spaces for all – for our team members and our customers.

Community pubs are hubs of diversity, equality and inclusivity, and they always have been. Over centuries, pubs have been spaces people come together, whatever their background, views or beliefs, to have a drink, share experiences, be heard and be embraced. To keep this ideology alive, we’re committed as a business to continuing this journey and working hard to reach proper inclusion. We dare to imagine a world where everyone feels they belong. 

At Greene King, we celebrate our differences and believe that by sharing our own personal experiences with each other, we can learn more about what makes us unique. We recently invited team members who identified as being from marginalised groups, including those with disabilities, from ethnic minority backgrounds and the LGBTQ+ communities and women, to come forward and bravely tell their stories about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of what many would deem ‘banter’, but what is actually, to these individuals, harmful.

This ‘I’m not prejudiced, but...’ engagement initiative shone a light on what it feels like to be misunderstood or marginalised unintentionally for just being yourself. It has been a powerful reminder to us all that we should each be able to exist, be safe and be welcome both at work and going about our everyday lives.

In terms of acceptance and being heard, we recognise that trans communities are currently in a similar position to where cisgender gay communities were in the 1980s, or women’s rights were earlier last century, and therefore need our support more than ever to be heard and respected. However, transgender rights in the UK have varied hugely over the years, and the community faces ongoing challenges. These include back-tracking, confusing and conflicting discourse, even from governing bodies, which cisgender Brits have never had to endure.

But we are seeing a little progress and acceptance, and by encouraging positive conversations we can champion and lead change from within our industry. That’s why we’re listening, both internally through Village Greene, our employee-led inclusion network for LGBTQ+ communities, and externally, through mentors, to educate our business at all levels.  

We hold our hands up and recognise we’re not perfect. But as a business, we’re working towards inclusion for all, and it’s a journey. We encourage respectful curiosity and are taking measures to educate at every level, including reverse mentoring to uncover first-hand the issues and hidden prejudices within our own business that need fixing. Specifically, for our trans team members, we’re working to make our processes and systems more inclusive to make it easier to be the person they want to be at work.

We’ve taken early steps, like celebrating occasions such as the International Transgender Day of Visibility and providing all our team members with a trans awareness guide, so that we can all ask the right questions without inadvertently causing offence. We have also made simple changes to our use of pronouns in both our written and spoken words with the choice to de-gender the way we talk to each other.

We understand that everyone is unique and that there’s a basic human right to have our differences respected. Of course, that doesn’t mean understanding everything. It’s about learning, knowing what you need to know to make someone feel comfortable and welcome and by showing respect even, if you don’t fully understand. Through education, you can remove the fear of the unknown or the fear of getting it wrong. And if you make a mistake, that’s okay, it’s just important to learn from it. We’re all on a journey.

Now is the time for our industry to come together, to help a community that is fighting to get listened to so they can become more accepted. We should welcome diversity, we should champion inclusion. After all, that’s what we’re all about in hospitality. Welcoming you, whoever you are. 
Garry Clarke-Strange is head of inclusion and diversity at Greene King

What we’ll be losing if pubs disappear by Phil Mellows

A sociologist walks into a bar. It’s no joke. They sit down. They watch. They listen. On a nearby table, an elderly gentleman wearing headphones is doing the crossword. After a while the afternoon light dims and he reaches into his satchel, pulls out a small desk lamp and positions it over the newspaper alongside his phone, a calculator, a clipboard and a bag of carrots. He switches it on and takes a sip of ale before resuming cogitations on 19 down.

The sociologist is fascinated. In their mind squirms the germ of an academic paper – which appeared in December’s edition of the Sociological Review under the heading ‘Social space and non-places: the community role of the traditional British pub’. Before I come to that article, let’s observe the observer. As far as I know, sociologists started going into pubs in a professional capacity in the late 1930s, as part of Mass Observation’s project to discover what working people actually did all day.

Their observations in pubs in Bolton are compiled in a book called The Pub and the People, and as George Orwell, an early reviewer, pointed out, behind it lay an intimation that pub culture was disappearing, to be “gradually replaced by the passive drug-like pleasures of the cinema and the radio”. A similar sense of imminent loss has generated a fresh scrutiny of pub life since pandemic lockdowns (and now the cost-of-living crisis) focused minds on the fragility of the hospitality sector. If we lose our pubs, then what, exactly, (beyond the financial contribution) will we be losing?

In a lyrical little film released by the Campaign for Real Ale this week, The Meaning of Pubs, journalist Jess Mason muses on this question over a pint or two. It’s a slippery subject. Her eyes flicker as she seeks the right words to express her pleasure. Something ineffable escapes. Alongside the poetic, there are more scientific approaches. On the same day, celebrity medic Michael Mosley devoted his Just One Thing show on Radio 4 to how social connections improve health. Even fleeting encounters with other human beings can get your endorphins going and even lengthen your life, he concludes. Somehow, he manages to avoid mentioning that pubs are an excellent facilitator for this. But we know that.

The British Institute of Innkeepers’ #notjustapub campaign emphasises the social value of pubs, and it’s working with a sociologist, Dr Claire Markham at Nottingham Trent University, to come up with substantial evidence about the part pubs play in giving communities their historical identities. And Dr Tom Thurnell-Read, perhaps best known for his studies of stag parties, has turned his attention post-pandemic to how pubs address the problem of loneliness among older people.

‘Social space and non-places’ is another intervention in this debate. The sociologist here, Reid Allen of Goldsmiths, initially set out to compare how people use two kinds of pub, a small local and a large chain house. But it was the latter, a Wetherspoons, that really caught his imagination. While the local conformed to expectations as “a space of communal domesticity” and conviviality, a second living room for its regulars, the social connections at the ‘Spoons were more tenuous, “restricted to gestures and brief exchanges”. 

Yet this space was socially valuable too, as a kind of adaptable “non-place” that people could make their own. Allen’s interviewees among the lone customers frequently mention how “comfortable” they feel there. “These new corporate pub spaces,” he concludes, “are not devoid of meaning or domestic use. Instead, we see regular patrons relishing the relative space, comfort and privacy.” For all its flaws, I’ve always thought the success of J D Wetherspoon comes down not just to cheap beer and food, but the way its pubs provide a kind of neutral space customers can make into almost anything they want.

And I like the idea that pubs might give you privacy as well as sociability. There’s a lot of attention paid to the great work publicans and their teams do to generate interactions, to effectively create communities by hosting events and gently pushing people into each other’s company. But sometimes I just want to be left alone with my pint. Cerys Matthews, for her show on Radio 6 this Sunday, has been asking Twitter where we go to think, expecting followers to come up with quiet bucolic locations. My answer (which she ‘liked’) was “the pub”.

There’s a footnote to the ‘Spoons study. The branch where a chap can feel comfortable bringing his own desk lamp is the Coronet in Holloway Road, North London, and it’s one of the Spoons currently up for sale. I hope someone will take it on, but if they don’t, we now have a clearer idea of what we’ll be losing.
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

Crowdfunding should come with a word of warning by Glynn Davis

Before travelling to Norway in the summer for a family holiday, warnings came from all directions about the extravagant cost of beer. This proved to be exactly the case as I typically paid around the £10 mark for the equivalent of a pint – but it was not a shock as such because it is not unusual for me to pay this same sum at my local pub in North London.

The Great Northern Railway Tavern has one of the most interesting beer lists in the country which includes a constantly changing line-up of unusual brews, global icons, limited availability beers, hyped/fashionable ales and very strong beers. This translates into me often paying around the £10 level for a pint – although I frequently drink in thirds and two-thirds measures for both economic and health reasons.

I’ve been paying what has been the going market rate for these beers, which includes brews from the likes of Verdant and Deya, who produce incredibly popular, in-demand beers and have been able to charge pubs accordingly. And the customers have been willing to pay up in sufficient numbers to justify this premium pricing. But whereas these higher prices were the exception, and a bit of a luxury for a few brewers, the situation has changed markedly over the past year or so as a result of the increased costs of pretty much everything including utilities, ingredients, rent, wages and transportation. Every brewer now needs to bump up their pricing in order to survive.

But this is simply not possible for the vast majority of breweries – which currently number around 2,000 in the UK. Contributing to this inability to increase prices is the economic squeeze and the cost-of-living crisis. It’s not even really about charging a fair price for many – it’s about being able to charge any price, because it is arguably tough to even give beer away for many brewers. What’s going on?

The brewing industry has undoubtedly contributed to its present dire situation with the growth in levels of production capacity, particularly among craft brewers. It has grown significantly over recent years as many companies have drunk from the crowdfunding well. The access-to-easy (no questions asked what you do with it) money has enabled brewers with poorly controlled financial arrangements to invest in boosting their production capacities. The result is a saturated market with far too much competition and underused kit.

This has created a nightmare scenario in the marketplace and contributed to a growing number of failures across all parts of the industry – from traditional cask brewers to small craft operators. It will sadly take a lot more failures in the sector before there is anything like an economically viable landscape where the capacity in the market is anything close to being balanced with the demands from pubs, bars and retailers, including the major grocers. What would undoubtedly stall progress in this rebalancing of the sector would be a continuation of the crowdfunding phenomenon. It has arguably proven to be more of a damaging influence than a contributor to the health of the sector.

Worryingly, the restaurant sector seems to be getting a bit of an appetite for such a funding route. As the banks have become increasingly reluctant to commit cash to hospitality businesses and interest rates have pushed up borrowing costs, a growing number of restaurants are turning to crowdfunding. This should come with a word of warning that things might not ultimately turn out quite as positively as expected. 
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

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