'We recognise the value and the importance that pubs, bars and hospitality bring to people and communities'

Category partner for Pub/Bar of the Year at this year's Gloucestershire Lifestyle Awards, Stroud Brewery, shares why local pubs are at the heart of the community — and what people can do to support them.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
Stroud Brewery's founder, Greg Pilley, speaks to SoGlos about why pubs, bars and hospitality venues are so important to local communities — and why his business is proud to champion them.

After winning Pub/Bar of the Year at the Gloucestershire Lifestyle Awards in 2023, Stroud Brewery decided to become the category partner for the award in 2024.

SoGlos speaks to founder, Greg Pilley, about why it's so important for Stroud Brewery to champion local pubs, bars and hospitality venues and what people can do to support their local.

Stroud Brewery was the category partner for Pub/Bar of the Year in this year's Gloucestershire Lifestyle Awards — why did you choose this category?

Local pubs and bars are our main customers, they’re the people we work with day in day out.

What we recognise is the value and the importance that pubs, bars and hospitality bring to people and communities in the area — and that was what we were looking for out of the awards.

Pubs and bars are struggling, so we wanted to have the opportunity to highlight best practice and in particular, those places where people can meet and make genuine connections.

That’s the value of hospitality, but also something that is a challenge for the sector.

I think in order to make ends meet, we see a lot of managed bars and pubs where community connections might be lacking, but I think what we see is that there is a perennial and everlasting need for places to meet.

The hospitality sector is forever changing — it’s always evolving. We’re observing that the place to meet refashioning continuously, whether that’s the offer of food and drink; the emergence of the brewery taproom — when we started in 2006, pubs and bars weren’t selling local beer, so the fact they’re now championing local beer and local products is a change.

Local taprooms have won this award two years in a row now — us last year and Gloucester Brewery this year — so it really illustrates the need for welcoming, inclusive local spaces that provide a great place to meet.       

How did winning Pub/Bar of the Year in 2023 impact your business?

It’s hard to pin down the exact impact of winning, as we were already doing those things before we won the award and we continue to do them after — and we’ve always been highly supported by the local community.

What it does for us is provides an endorsement, it helps us demonstrate good practice as a business to our community, as many awards do.

We win awards for our beer and our business all the time, so it builds confidence in our brand and our approach.

Why is it so important for Stroud Brewery to champion local pubs and bars?

They are our bread and butter, we rely on them. But we recognise that it’s not just a commercial transaction, we regard them as part of our community.

We want to provide a good service and build relationships. We want to them to buy great products and we want to see pubs and bars serving great beer and great products.

What does Stroud Brewery does to support local pubs?

We have daily interactions with our local pub customers, we’re on the phone every day, we visit our local pubs, but it’s something we’re trying to do more of. Personally I’m in a hospitality tourism group for Stroud, too.

We encourage sustainability and good practice through our Sustainability in Pubs guide, but it comes at a cost, and we’re in difficult times.

The best support we can give is getting our drinking customers to recognise the value of their pub; to be good patrons of their local spaces. That’s the reality of what we’re doing at the moment.

Long-term, we’d like to give more practical support around dispensing beer and sharing ideas about how pubs can encourage community activity and learn from some of the things we do here.

What can people do to support their local pubs and bars?

It’s quite simply a commercial thing. With cash being a little more strapped and costs going up, people are being more cautious — and hospitality and pubs are struggling.

All we can say is that if you have the chance to go out and support your local, then do.

Something we struggle with ourselves is that people see rising costs and think that pubs like ours are raking it in, but many don’t realise the cost of running a bar, the overheads, and the costs of making their food and drink, especially if you’re trying to source things ethically. 

Really it’s about what we value — and we have to pay for the things that we value, within our means. Recognising the power of our pound and spending it on the things we’d like to maintain and preserve for the future.

Stroud Brewery's taproom is a hub for a variety of community events, from knitting groups to board game nights, not just somewhere to grab a beer — what is the thinking behind that?

Like the hospitality sector, our own venue has continuously evolved. There was a time we didn’t have a taproom at all. From a barrel in the corner where people could come to drink a beer, it quickly evolved.

That’s the reason we get out of bed, not just to brew great beer, but to get together with people to enjoy them.

We’re not just an altar to beer either, like some other taprooms. We sell beer but we also do great coffee and great food. There’s lots of different people with lots of different needs and we want to provide a place that meets the needs of many.

Our new venue is a massive space and it's quite a privilege that we’re the custodians of this space, this venue, so we want to maximise its value as a resource to the community.

It’s quite a rare thing to have a space like this where you can celebrate or learn, so we’re always asking how we can best provide that opportunity. It’s always changing and there is a dynamic between the commercial need and, when we can, giving away space so people who wouldn’t normally afford to can meet and do things.

We’ve got a couple of music sessions where people drop in and practice, which we don’t charge for; there’s a couple of art groups, for example. It’s just a space to do things – and that’s valuable, so we want to use it as best we can.

And the world is changing around us, so we need to do what we can to equip ourselves to meet that. We can use our venue to meet some of those changing needs, like helping people learn new skills, helping them make new relationships as lives change.

Ultimately I think one of the messages that we’re recognising is that life doesn’t seem to be getting easier, the world is a fairly challenging place that looks set to continue to be as challenging and what’s important is our sense of place and connection. I think hospitality has a real role to play in that.

A brewery like ours punches above its weight as we represent the town, the place where people live. People are proud to drink our beers and talk about us when they’re away, we’re a part of their identity.

We’re still trying to understand how we can best honour that.

How can other local pubs and taprooms follow Stroud Brewery's example?

The first thing to recognise is that many already do this and do it brilliantly — and they always have done.

We’ve done our learning by looking at great landlords, especially around Stroud. The Prince Albert, the Crown and Sceptre, they host quizzes, Sunday lunches where the same people come to meet each week, they do fundraising and charity work. We’re learning as much from others as we are teaching.

What’s important is to share best practice. Just being a venue to eat and drink is no longer enough. People do still want places to have a quiet meal with the family, but as a model there’s more to the community pub.

With a general election coming up, what do you think the future holds for the hospitality sector?

I think hospitality has prevailed throughout the aeons, so I have no doubt it will reinvent itself whatever the circumstances are, economic or otherwise, but policy does have a huge impact on the sector.

The duty break for small brewers introduced in 2002 by Gordon Brown fundamentally changed the brewery scene. There were 700 small and microbreweries in 2006, there are over 2000 now.

While we’ve seen decline in pubs over the years, arguably as a result of changing habits and practice, we may see the emergence of different kinds of venues in the future. Hospitality is always an area in flux, but policy can make a huge difference.

One of the things we’ve pressed for is a difference in duty for draught beer and packaged beer. There was a time when duty was equal regardless of whether the beer was on draught from a keg or barrel or from a can or bottle — as a result of Brexit, one of the positives was that is has allowed a differentiation between package types, so there is a slightly better duty rate on bulk beer rather than individually packaged beers.

There is an opportunity to make this much greater and as a consequence, make beer in pubs and bars more affordable, which could encourage people to go out and drink in a social setting, rather than at home.

One of the biggest things to negatively affect people’s mental health is loneliness and isolation, so anything that encourages people to go out and meet people is positive, as is moderation of drinking in the right setting.

It also reduces the sales of packaged goods, which does have consequences for businesses like ours as we sell packaged beer as well, but it acts as an environmental tax to reduce the amount of packaging in circulation. Beer in a can produces more than twice the emissions as a pint of draught beer.

Business and hospitality rates, VAT on food sold through hospitality venues, these all make a difference too. There was a time when several rates were reduced post-Covid. While paying reduced VAT doesn’t directly help the business, as that money isn’t ours in the first place, it does help consumers.

So policy can make a really big difference on the landscape for hospitality and can dramatically help and support the sector.

We really need to give attention and value to hospitality, as we’re losing these places where people meet and really create the fabric of community.

If you have kids, you might meet people in the school playground; if you go to church you might meet people there; but for the people who don’t, where do you go to meet other people? It’s often pubs, bars and hospitality venues, so helping people make use of those spaces and helping pubs to engineer ways people can meet is really important.

To go back to that sense of place and identity and the role of pubs, bars and breweries, every town identifies with its beer, its brewery and its bars — and they help to give a sense of place.

The fact that Gloucester Brewery won Pub/Bar of the Year this year is a testament to and a reflection of the fact that people identify with their local brewery and bar, and there will always be a place for that.

Large, multinational brands don’t serve to promote individual places, so pubs and bars championing local beer and local products are really important and deserve support.

In partnership with Stroud Brewery  |  stroudbrewery.co.uk

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