In July this year Edinburgh opened its doors to its first social enterprise pub ‘The Southside Social’ who’s joints aims are to provide a nice wee place to drink, and also to provide sustainable employment for young people in Scotland. The profits of the pub will be donated to charity or re-invested into the programme. The pub will train its staff in the skills needed for a career in the hospitality industry, using a 19 week program including classroom based study and on the job work experience, almost like an apprenticeship. The outcome of which is the receipt of a certificate of work readiness, and qualifications in food hygiene and first aid.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pub, particularly one that serves tasty pale ale and has a decent crisp selection. Yet the sceptic in me wants to jump up and down waving a red flag, how can the promotion of alcohol use be conducive to the achievement of social and environmental benefit of the community? Yes, these young people are gaining relevant skills for the industry, but will they be trained how to deal with noise pollution complaints when students are drunkenly singing ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba at the 1am kick out time? And what if the pub is facilitating anti-social behaviour and negative health outcomes? The NHS has found that alcohol goes hand in hand with instances of violence across social groups, with alcohol related illness and injury putting the most pressure on accident and emergency departments across the UK. Most notably, alcohol is a depressant, with suicide and self-harm more prevalent in those who have an alcohol problem.
On the flip side, this site was previously a pub called ‘The Meadow Bar’, of which I used to frequent in my student days. If this pub had not been taken over by a social entrepreneur, it may have fell into the hands of a larger profit wielding leisure company, with no regard for the social and environmental benefits they could be delivering. Moreover, it could be said that there are ethical issues related to health that will arise in any situation where alcohol is sold to consumers, such as shops and restaurants. This got me thinking, we will always have pubs, good and bad, but is it better that they become social enterprises? Or should we be cautious of promoting social enterprises that encourage behaviours that have potentially negative public health outcomes, directly or indirectly? If such pubs are donating to charities and providing sustainable employment opportunities then perhaps these negative outcomes are balanced out as health and social need is indirectly met elsewhere.
The ‘not for profit’ pub is not a new concept, as community based organisations such as working men’s clubs have been in existence since the 19th century. Such places have served to sustain social and economic means in their day, but the very thought of a working men’s club conjures up images of overweight men drinking pints of heavy and chain smoking. Yet as many of these drinking institutions are dying a death due to de-industrialisation, it may be time to further re-modernise this concept and bring it into the 21st century in the form of social enterprise pubs. The UK Government is currently offering loans and grants to communities, particularly in rural areas, who wish to take over their local pub through the Plunkett Foundation. As this diversification into social and economic sustainability in hospitality service provision is now on the government agenda, it has to be questioned whether this can be represented in a responsible and health conscious way, some way somehow.