The statistics speak for themselves. With around 400 pubs disappearing from communities across the UK every year, this equates to roughly 37 boozers being demolished or converted for other uses every single month.
While many despair at this news, it’s also important to remember that with changing attitudes to drinking, and societal shifts that see people staying in watching Netflix, and conversing with friends over social media (perhaps whilst drinking cheap supermarket booze) – is there enough people out there that care about the decline of the great British pub?
Their place in our communities has certainly wavered over the last few decades, and as more and more disappear, the local boozer is becoming a rare thing indeed.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, as recent years have seen an influx in independent and community-owned pubs popping up, as local groups have bought up old pubs and completely turned them around, creating co-ops that cater to the community as well as giving people a place to drink 10 ciders and sing Wonderwall on the karaoke.
This leads me on nicely to one of my local boozers, the mighty Robin Hood in Stretford, a colossal boozer that is high on grandeur but, after years of neglect, is stuck in a development limbo that could see it disappear forever.
There’s been a pub here for well over 200 years, initially called the Waggon & Horses before being re-named The Robin Hood sometime around 1898. It’s an impressive Edwardian structure with ornate brick and masonry outside, porch entrances and a large outdoor terrace out back – alongside a massive 58 space car park.
The pub itself has a rather chequered past, with a few unsavoury events that tainted not just its reputation but also hastened its closure in 2018. A gang-related murder on the steps of the boozer in 2009 certainly didn’t help, but efforts by former landlady Eileen Farrell through the teens looked to be getting the pub back up and running again.
She arrived in 2014 and quickly set about making some big changes, including a nice new refurbishment, a more extensive food menu of pub classics and a regular set of events, from Car Boot Sales in the car park out back, to BBQs in the summer.
Alas, it was not meant to be, and the Robin Hood officially closed its doors in 2018, and since then it’s been left empty, apart from a period of time when it was home to some squatters.
The brewery who owned the pub was Greene King, who locals and regulars claim decided to close the boozer because they could get more cash (and less headaches) from developers.
It’s location right on the crossroads of Urmston Lane and Barton Road puts it right in the heart of what would have been considered the ‘town centre’ of Stretford, and with recent announcements of the re-introduction of a main shopping and leisure thoroughfare, and significant investment in the area, this is prime real estate for any developer out there.
And indeed, a property developer did swipe up the building and the adjoining land, but since then – not much has happened. Not on the face of it anyway. Behind the scenes – it’s been a bit mad really.
Back in September of 2019, the developers who bought the building – Urbane Forms – submitted a planning application to convert the existing pub into 11 apartments, with another 10 houses located on the existing car parking area.
Now, as you may be able to see from the photos here, and if you’ve ever walked past – fitting 11 apartments into the pub seems like a bit of a long shot – unless they’re looking to create those London-style flats where your kitchen sink is next to your bed and you have to sleep in the shower.
The application was withdrawn at the beginning of February 2020 – after some fierce opposition by the local community and groups. However, another application was submitted a year later with “a revised set of planning documents” for the project.
The thing is – the developers are still looking to create 11 apartments in the old pub, but now they’re proposing 9 houses in the car park – which local residents still aren’t too happy with.
Many cite the fact that this already busy intersection would not benefit in the slightest from 20 new houses here, and the need for car parking spaces would further exacerbate already difficult conditions.
There’s also the age-old difficulties of building new housing in residential areas, especially with Bruntwood looking to add to the housing stock just over the road too. Schools, public facilities and just the simple fact that people’s house prices might not rise as much as they are now – are all factors which are adding to the rather complicated planning mess that the developers have found themselves in.
The local community have responded in kind by looking to establish and create a group who can take over the pub, turning it into a community-led enterprise, not just a boozer but also a hub for people in the local area.
The main problem with this though is that it has a rather high asking price for the land, and a general reluctance for people to take on what would be a huge undertaking – especially with the pub being derelict for so long.
With a decision on the pub still yet to be made and agreed on with developers, and some pretty staunch opposition from the local community, the Robin Hood pub, once a jewel in Stretford’s crown, is languishing in a no man’s land – one which sees it slowly rotting away day-by-day.
So, if there’s anyone out there who wants to own a pub – perhaps get a top chef in to do the food, have some nice hotel rooms upstairs, a gig and event space in the function room, and bag yourself a Michelin Star next year – the people of Stretford would be very happy indeed.
I’d do it myself, and think I’d be pretty bloody good at it too – I just don’t have a couple of million quid knocking about to buy it.
As serious investment and development comes to the town centre of Stretford – the Robin Hood is in the perfect place to thrive – if someone would just take that first leap and wrangle it from this development hell.