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Campaign to End Loneliness can be helped by pubs

The Bar Man column, by CAMRA's Jeff Hoyle, Friday, March 13, 2020

We may be more interconnected than ever, and have hundreds of friends on social media, but isolation and loneliness are a major problem in today’s society.

The Campaign to End Loneliness suggests that living alone with poor social connections is as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is a problem that affects all age groups and one that pubs can help with.

The Bar Man on the role of pubs in tackling loneliness and isolation. PA photo
The Bar Man on the role of pubs in tackling loneliness and isolation. PA photo

As many village amenities such as post offices and shops close, and parish churches are grouped together, perhaps opening only once a month, pubs may be the last place left where people can meet.

It is not just somewhere to drink, but a gathering point for all kinds of groups, from book clubs, and knitting circles to car enthusiasts.

In 2016 CAMRA commissioned a report from Oxford University to examine the role that pubs played in facilitating friendships and increasing happiness amongst their users.

Friends on Tap by Dr Robin Dunbar of the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University is available as a link from the CAMRA national website, and is a detailed and rigorous study of the subject, not just anecdotal evidence and should be required reading for those who want to convert our few remaining hostelries to flats.

However, it is now four years old and CAMRA is working on a new report. If you want to contribute your story or list any event in your local pub, you can do this on the website.

It is not just pubs that have played a leading role in the mental health of the population.

I noticed a letter by Richard Larkin in the current issue of the CAMRA Beer magazine in which he flags up the Brouwerij de Prael in the Netherlands.

He explains that the founders were two home brewers who worked in the mental health system in the Netherlands and they became concerned that many patients were treated but failed to settle down into life outside and were soon back with the same problems.

Their solution was to found a brewery and employ ex-patients to help them break the cycle. Intrigued I looked into it a little further and discovered that Arno Kooij and his business partner Fer Kok accessed government grants to finance the project.

Arno was employed in a rehabilitation centre helping recovering psychiatric patients look for work, but found it difficult to find openings that were suitable.

While the grants paid for the setting up, the brewery had then to be a commercial success.

It must have been a challenge, being Amsterdam’s smallest brewery while aspiring to provide real work to a large number of employees, but they seem to have managed.

With three full time and 32 part-timers, the brewery has been running since the early years of this century, and is located in the centre of the city, near the main station.

Tours are available, and if you believe Trip Advisor, they are well worth taking.

Their production is split between draught and bottled products, and it was interesting to hear that some of the bottles have been exported to Scotland where a similar scheme has been set up.

The Forth Sector project doesn’t include a brewery, but does run a café which helps to provide work for people with mental health or physical or learning disabilities.

Sometimes charity seems a bit worthy and no fun, but what could be better than having a beer produced by people helping themselves in a café served by people doing likewise.

I can’t promise to visit these two enterprises, but I will try and look out for similar projects on my travels.

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