It is not exactly difficult to work out why shopping centre landlords have sought to bump-up the number of restaurants and cafes in their properties. It is the same reason why the number of coffee shops and eateries has continued to increase in many town centres.
People fundamentally need social interaction. So while shop numbers dwindle – as people increasingly shop online – the desire to still meet and spend physical time together has driven a continued demand for places to spend time over food and drink.
But there is a potential longer-term spanner in the works here as the proliferation of technology is pushing younger generations into an ever more isolated mode of living. It is a world potentially devoid of communal activities, instead favouring the spending of time with ‘friends’ on social media platforms.
For a healthy populous it could be argued that physical social interaction should be encouraged (in fact, it is the future, literally). But ironically, the existence of one of the best platforms for this interaction has been put under great pressure.
We are talking about the pub. And not in a sense that it should be the place where younger people unhealthily kill time guzzling booze. It’s more about the pub being available as a centre of the community where people of all ages can interact in a social environment.
It has historically had this role (fantastically highlighted in the archive footage in a recent DVD compilation from the BFI – Roll Out the Barrel), but such has been the pressure put on this iconic part of British life that we have been losing many pubs.
Without wishing to point the finger at any one particular cause, the public house has suffered from increases in alcohol duty, a proliferation of red tape, the now-recognised fatally flawed pubco model, cheap supermarket booze, and rubbish landlords (but that’s another story).
The combination of these has come at a time when it could be argued there has never been a need for a stronger presence of community hubs. After all, the church’s role has diminished, while the corner shop, Post Office etcetera have all but disappeared from many towns and villages.
What we still have left – just – in numerous communities is the pub. But like far too many independent shops the days for these places are undoubtedly numbered.
We are in no way advocating a return to the ‘good old days’ of the pub because as Roll Out the Barrel shows so clearly, there are many aspects of past times that we don’t want to return to, thank-you very much.
But what we do need are places that offer younger people (and older ones too) an alternative from living an increasingly insular existence that for many involves only experiencing the world through an interactive touch-screen. What this technology shows you is admittedly realistic but it’s not reality.
And the continued demonisation of the pub is equally unrealistic if we want a society that is socially adept and most importantly contributive.
Roll Out the Barrel: The British Pub on Film (BFI)