Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, February 3, 2017

editorial image

Things are looking up for pubs. According to specialist property sales company Christie and Co, 83 per cent of pubs sold in 2016 remained as pubs and only six per cent were converted into houses.

The larger pub-owning companies also reported improved results, with Enterprise Inns turning a £63 million loss into a £71 million profit after tax.

Some of this jump is due to a rationalisation of the estate, with poorer performing pubs disposed of, but it does mean that the number of properties being put up for sale should now be much reduced.

The troubled Punch Taverns group has been largely purchased by Heineken, which is now one of the largest owners of pubs in the UK, alongside Greene King.

All of this shows a renewed confidence in the pub trade and a belief that it can be profitable.

So, has this renewed confidence filtered through to west Norfolk? In some areas, it has.

Several local pubs are investing a significant amount of money in their businesses. Just before Christmas, I went out to the Ffolkes Arms in Hillington.

Just by the entrance, there was a giant pin board with space for suggestions as to what should happen in its forthcoming refurbishment.

There were a great number of opinions and, although some people will inevitably be disappointed, it is great to see the views of customers being sought.

The work was due to start in January and a closure of three months should see a massive change to the place. Hopefully, they will keep the excellent beer we enjoyed during our visit.

Down at Stow Bardolph, planning permission has been sought for changes to the Hare Arms, while in Lynn, work has begun on the sad-looking Wenn’s hotel.

The bar in the Duke’s Head has been moved into the old bistro, but sadly there is no longer any cask beer, while Ian, formerly of the Railway in Downham, has his new pop-up pub project out in Tottenhill.

Even where major work has not been undertaken, several pubs have been spruced up and look bright and clean.

Check out the new green paint at the Fenman, which seems so much more inviting than the old black.

Have a look at the light and welcoming interiors of the Lord Napier and the London Porterhouse – and contrast the new look with the brown nicotine-stained décor of pubs in times past.

So, is everything in the garden rosy? Well, not quite. We were showing some people around the town recently and, as they came by train, we met in the Fenman. Where to next? I suggested Bar Red. Closed, came a voice from the bar.

What about the Maids Head? Also closed. Maybe the Dukes Head? No real ale.

Hopefully these will soon be open again. Some comfort was afforded by the planning notice on the old Jessops shop in the High Street, applying for a licence and permission for a craft beer bar, which I hope will sell cask beer as well as expensive keg stuff.