Last Orders At The Bar?

The Queen Vic. Once a popular student pub…now a fish and chip shop.

Are students the cause of pubs closing down and becoming take aways and student accommodation? Chris Coates went to find out more…

If you have taken a stroll down Moor Lane in the past few years, a small derelict building may have caught your attention.

The seemingly abandoned shell of former pub The Queen Vic was hard to ignore, and not just because of its loud purple exterior and boarded up windows. But because it almost encapsulated in just one building, the rot that is deep seated within the foundations of the United Kingdom’s pub industry.

According to the latest figures published by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the number of net pub closures in the UK has risen from 26 to an alarming 28 per week, over the period of April-December 2013. So in light of this, who in their right mind would dare to open a pub in today’s hostile financial climate?

Well if you were to take that stroll down Moor Lane today, you would find part of your answer, and it would tell you, certainly not the current owners of The Queen Vic. The property, which is fittingly situated in the shadow of UCLan’s biggest student accommodation IQ Kopa, has suffered some false dawns during its stint among the ranks of Preston’s ‘ghost pubs’.

Various plans by the previous owners have all fallen through. But now under new ownership, the property has received a much needed make over and will soon open as a fish and chip shop as well as student accommodation.

So, why the change? According to co-owner Ibrahim Sanival, they weighed up the options and decided continuing the property as a pub simply wasn’t viable, as there is no demand for any more in the area. He said: “I think if you can obtain the alcohol from cheaper outlets, then why go to a pub and waste all your money? Especially being a student in this location.”

Ibrahim cites over-saturation as part of the problem: “There’s too many. Obviously, with the intense competition it reflects on how much business each pub is able to do.

“From my experience, in the last 10 years, I’ve seen the night life decline. The economy as well as cheaper alcohol being offered in places like supermarkets could be factors.”

He does believe however, students are vital part of Preston’s economy and many pubs and businesses would be worse off without them: “I think the students generate that extra income for businesses, and obviously they do drink quite a lot.”

The Queen Vic is not an isolated case; it mirrors the fate of other pubs in and around the university campus. An immediate parallel can be drawn with the Tanners Arms on Adelphi Street, which has followed a similar progression of pub to student accommodation.

But what of those pubs still open, is it possible to survive and even thrive? Amy Middleton, duty manager of popular pub The Adelphi on Fylde Street, believes adaptation is key, which is why they offer events such as live music and even eating challenges. But perhaps most importantly, there are nights where the alcohol is cheaper.

She said: “Students don’t really have any money, I was a student myself so I know that. We have deals solely for students. We say “here’s a student card” and whenever they come in they show us that and they get deals on cheap drinks.”

However with alcohol being so cheap in shops, students often prefer to ‘pre-drink’ in their accommodation before heading to the city’s bars and clubs, often bypassing local pubs altogether. This is a trend Amy has witnessed herself: “When I was studying, at least at first, I would rather stay in and drink with friends before going out (to clubs)”.

So with this trend of students buying their own alcohol before attending clubs, are students more of a benefit to the city’s clubs than pubs? Amy says: “Obviously Monday nights and Wednesday nights we are affected because you’ve got Squires [now ‘Cameo and Vinyl’] on Mondays and Evoque on Wednesdays, it is evident.”

But what of the students themselves? John Eginton-Manning, attending his second year at UCLan echoes this running theme: “It’s cheaper for us to go and buy our drinks from a shop and drink them in a flat than it is to go to a pub. Sometimes pubs do deals but overall it’s much cheaper to just buy your own.”

With alcohol prices in shops and supermarkets seemingly not set for any drastic change, and with pubs somewhat limited in their capacity to offer cheaper alcohol, a survival of the fittest landscape has developed. Pubs are now forced to evolve and adapt in order to attract the specific clientele in their area. For the pubs in and around the UCLan campus that clientele is students. Fail to do so, and they may very well follow the same path as pubs like The Queen Vic and the Tanners Arms, and become extinct.

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