The Leo

The Leo

On Wednesday 15th February 2017, the landlord of The Leopold, my favourite pub in Portsmouth, announced “a sad day” and went on to state the pub – voted CAMRA Pub of the Year just the week before – was due to close on Sunday, 19th February 2017.

wp_20170220_00_48_16_pro The Leopold, Albert Road, Southsea

Stuart Ainsworth, the landlord, wrote the reason was due to being unable to negotiate a reasonable rent with Enterprise Inns. Enterprise Inns wanted to increase the annual rent from £32,000 to £50,000. An obscene and ridiculous amount – more than 56% – driven by nothing other than greed from a faceless corporation that has been responsible for the closure of many pubs, not just in Portsmouth, in favour of selling the properties to make a quick profit. Some have stated that Enterprise Inns are simply a property developer masquerading as a pubco. Given their behaviour and attitude, this does seem to be the case.

Stuart posted the following to his Facebook page:

This I one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.
This place is where my children grew up.
This place is where my children met their partners.
This place is where my granddaughter came about.
This place is where I met some lifelong friends.
This place is where I had awesome staff.
This place is where me and my wife made memories.
This place was my life.
Absolutely gutted!

I wrote to Enterprise Inns myself, to express my disappointment at their approach to this issue, which Stuart told me they’d been trying to resolve for the last eight months. It wasn’t the best letter I’d ever written, but my emotions were running high at the time:

Dear Enterprise Inns – or whatever you’re calling yourselves these days. A wolf in sheep’s clothing if ever there was one. 

Please STOP with your continuing campaign to rid the country of its best pubs. Yesterday, due to your RIDICULOUSLY HIGH INCREASE IN RENT The Leopold pub in Portsmouth announced it is closing. This, along with many other pubs (Golden Eagle, 5th Hants,  Fort Cumberland, Queen’s Head in Titchfield) – not just in Portsmouth but elsewhere in the country – have suffered enough at your hands in your ongoing quest of greed and necessity to make a QUICK BUCK. And it MUST STOP. NOW! 

Simply selling a building to make a quick turnaround of money is NOT a good business model. What will you do when there are no more pubs bringing in a steady and continuous income? 

You state on your website you support local businesses but it is CLEAR from your actions that you do not – otherwise, why would you increase rent by more than 60%??? Why would you take a business that was voted PUB OF THE YEAR and decide to RUIN IT or SHUT IT DOWN???

You are putting SEVERAL PEOPLE out of jobs and their homes and destroying a community where people regularly meet. This is DISGRACEFUL behaviour from a company that touts they work with local businesses. STOP IT NOW. 

STOP DESTROYING COMMUNITIES AND BUSINESSES!

STOP IT NOW!

PLEASE!

David Gates

Simon Gibbons was somewhat more eloquent in his email to them:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to express my disappointment at the position that Enterprise Inns have put the tenants of the Leopold pub in.

The rent increase has made it impossible for them to continue as a going concern, fulfilling an important community need in Southsea, and providing excellent beer to boot. Only a few days before they announced they were closing, they had been crowned CAMRA pub of the year 2017. So they must have been doing something right.

Raising rents for pubs all over the country is not a long term investment, but merely maximising short term returns on a property portfolio, where rental income is the aim – not successful businesses in your pubs.

This inevitably leads to higher prices and a provision of service to only those that can afford it. It breaks a central element that holds communities together in an age where there are fewer and fewer focal points for communities to group around.

This is only the thin edge of the wedge, with pubs up and down the country being sold or developed into flats, or not even run as businesses but simply left to accumulate in value as mere properties.

Per your strategy, raising the rent on the Leopold is not “matching the pub with the retail proposition that should enable its success”. You clearly have no idea of what the community of Southsea is like – otherwise you would appreciate the value the pub has as is. You wouldn’t be basing it solely on a “segmentation tool”.

Optimising every asset in your portfolio” is doublespeak for squeezing as much cash out of each tenancy and only benefits shareholders – and is short term in the extreme. If you genuinely wanted to do this, you would be assisting businesses to develop – this is clearly not a ‘broken’ business.

Doing this is not “serving our publicans, employees and communities in which they are based.” Quite the opposite.

I urge you to come up with a workable solution that benefits all the stakeholders you profess to care about.

Yours faithfully

Simon Gibbons

Simon and I, and everyone else I know who wrote to them, got the same templated response:

Dear Mr Gates

Re: Leopold Tavern Southsea

Thank you for your email dated 16th February 2017, addressed to our Chief Executive Officer, Simon Townsend, expressing your concerns about the Leopold Tavern. As the Divisional Director for the area in which the Leopold Tavern is situated, Mr Townsend has asked me to respond on his behalf and keep him apprised of the situation.

Ei Publican Partnerships operate as a leased and tenanted business whereby our publicans are able to work as self-employed individuals from within our premises. This enables our publicans to build and develop their business with the support of their Regional Manager. As our publicans are selfemployed, Ei Publican Partnerships are not involved with the day to day running of the business.

As I’m sure you’ll understand, the details of any agreement made between Ei Publican Partnerships and any other party is strictly confidential and, therefore, we’re not in a position to discuss any details. However, I can assure you that we are fully aware of how valued, Stuart, our publican at the Leopold Tavern is by the local community and can assure you that we continue to seek to work closely with Stuart with a view of resolving the situation amicably and as soon as possible.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to write to us.

Yours sincerely
Ei Publican Partnerships

Matthew Whiting
Divisional Director

C.c. Simon Townsend, Chief Executive Officer

What a cop-out.

It is considered by many that this is a smack-in-the-teeth from Enterprise Inns to what is a thriving and successful business run by a fantastic landlord and amazing team of bar staff. Enterprise Inns state they “support local business”, so it beggars belief that they should force the pub out of business by making such a ridiculously high hike in rent. They should be rewarding the success of the pub, not hampering or destroying it with such outrageous demands. But it is well known by their previous actions that they charge extortionate prices for the beer they supply and, particularly when landlords start obtaining their beer from elsewhere, increase the rent to make the business non-viable!

Local politician Flick Drummond weighed in: “I will be looking at what more the government and councils can do to help pubs.” You could start by not agreeing to planning permission to turn them into flats Flick!

And so, with a heavy heart, I scheduled myself for one last pint, or few, on the Sunday. On Sunday morning, I reviewed the Facebook posts. One from Pat Daniels, a lovely lady and barmaid of the pub for some years, posted the following poignant message:

Love this bit of the night after a busy shift ….lights out and sit and listen to the old girl creaking (the pub ..not me) and the coolers whirling gonna miss this.

And then I saw a message from the pub’s page from the day before:

WOW! What can we say. You lovely people have nearly drunk us dry!! Unfortunately this means that we will be closing tonight! We would like to thank you all for the unbelievable support.
If any of our locals would like to join us for a farewell drink myself and Mandy will be at our great friends The Northcote from 7PM on Sunday.
Could I ask that you share this post so it reaches as many of our customers as possible so as not to disappoint people tomorrow!
With a tear in our eye we bid you farewell.

Alas, I had missed the last opportunity to have a drink there and wish Stu, his family and bar staff well for the future. I would go to The Northcote and have one last hurrah with them.

During the Sunday, following the pub’s closure Saturday night, someone left flowers at the door. Some scum (Enterprise Inns perhaps?) stole them but not before the following photo was taken.

flowers-cropped

Flowers left in memory of the pub’s closing

Even the landlord of the pub opposite The Leopold, The Bold Forester, commented on how, when looking out across the road, it didn’t seem right that “The Leo”, as it is affectionately known, was in darkness.

I joined Stu, Mandy, Pat and the other staff and friends to wish them all well on Sunday night. At one point during the celebrations, there was a huge cheer and someone shouted “Hurrah for The Duchess.” We looked around to see who had arrived. “The Duchess,” the landlady from another pub in Albert Road, The Duke of Devonshire, had made the journey to wish Stuart and his family well also. She embraced the Leopold’s landlord. Stuart was visibly moved, quite possibly even shedding a tear, by the effort this dear old lady had made in coming to see him off.

And it’s this side of the pub that conglomerates and corporations like Enterprise Inns don’t see. They don’t see the human side of what makes a pub what it is. What real community is. What friends and neighbours do for each other when brought together by a common meeting-place.

 wp_20170219_23_49_27_pro-cropped(From left-right: David E. Gates, Stuart Ainsworth and Pat “Pasty” Daniels)

There is a petition to try and save it, but having closed its doors already I fear that the horse has bolted already. Enterprise Inns are due to meet with the landlord on Tuesday 21st February 2017, but it’s generally accepted that there won’t be any further negotiations from Enterprise Inns – their stance and refusal to reduce the hike considerably well noted – and is merely an opportunity for them to collect the keys.

The petition is at: https://www.change.org/p/enterprise-inns-save-the-leopold?recruiter=317840103&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_term=mob-xs-share_petition-no_msg

I’ll leave the last words to Stuart – it seems only apt.

So I have just woke up after an absolutely brilliant last night/morning at the pub. I want to thank all of my friends and family for your support over the years. The pub may be no more but the memories will last forever.
To all our customers you will be forever friends.
To all our staff you will be forever part of our family.
Thank you to my awesome children who have grown into lovely young ladies at the pub.
Thank you to my gorgeous wife for her support and unconditional love, without her the pub would never of happened.
We move on and start another chapter. 

Love to you all. 

Stuart Ainsworth

 

 

© Copyright 2017 – David E. Gates.

 

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