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Saving The Rhubarb just got real

On Friday, we got an email from Garvan, landlord of The Drapers Arms, letting us know that the owners of The Rhubarb have applied for permission to turn it into flats.

You might recall that we wrote anxiously about the future of The Rhubarb a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve corresponded with somebody who was trying to get some kind of community ownership project of the ground and had been in negotiation with the owners.

What we didn’t know was that, by that time, they’d already put in their application for change of use.

We’re gutted about this, frankly. Not only is The Rhubarb the closest pub to our house, it’s also the only pub left in the neighbourhood. (The Swan is already lost.) If The Rhubarb goes, there’s going to be an enormous gap in the map.

At present, you can walk the length of Avonvale road, the spine of Barton Hill, without passing a single pub. (Although there are two social clubs.) Lawrence Hill, the next bit over, has one pub, The Packhorse; St Anne’s, in the other direction, has The Langton Court; and The Barley Mow is in St Phillips. There are also a few pubs along Church Road in St George’s.

Things change, pubs close, but a residential area as populous as Barton Hill without a single pub? Something has broken.

The Rhubarb isn’t only the last pub – it’s one of the few buildings in Barton Hill with any history at all. Most of the factories and terraces that once defined the area are long gone; The Rhubarb, strange, compromised thing that it is, is a link to the past.

Thanks to Michael (@BringOnTheBeer) we also know that it has significance in the history of Britain’s railways, too: the bit of track that runs over a bridge next to the pub is known as ‘Rhubarb Loop’.

Now isn’t the time to decide

The planning application is built around the suggestion that the pub is fundamentally not viable.

First, it seems to us that a pandemic is not the right time to judge this. We’ve had messages from a couple of experienced operators who were interested but the timing wasn’t right for them, which must be common across the entire industry right now.

There needs to be a delay so this decision, if it must be taken, can be done so calmly, with due process.

We do acknowledge, though, that there is a correlation between social deprivation and pub closures – and Lawrence Hill is deprived. So, yes, it might be a challenge to make money from a pub like The Rhubarb while also serving the community, rather than simply existing in it.

But we think it could be done with the right team and investment.

There are certainly a lot of unserved chimney pots nearby.

What is to be done?

You can object to the planning application here, as several people have already done.

We’re not experts on this kind of thing at all but, as we understand it:

  • Your objection is more likely to carry weight if you live in Bristol, of course, and doubly so if you live in or have a connection to Barton Hill or Lawrence Hill.
  • It’s best to make your objection specific and personal rather than copy and paste a general complaint that can be easily dismissed as part of a campaign.
  • State specifically what you want to happen instead.

When we file our objection, it will be on the grounds that:

  • It’s an important pub, both in terms of community function and history.
  • It’s not appropriate to judge viability during a pandemic – the decision should be delayed.
  • Though the developers claim a community consultation has occurred, we’ve seen and heard no sign of it.
  • We believe the pub could be viable given the lack of local competition and high population density.
  • A community ownership model might allow it to operate profitably.

There is also a campaign page on Facebook set up by Annie McGann of the organisation Save Bristol Nightlife. You can join the group for updates and information on how to get involved.

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