Meet the Regional Advisor: insights from Reg Clarke CBII, PiTH advisor for the South West

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Despite the challenges faced since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pub is The Hub’s wonderful team of regional advisors continue to help great publicans to diversify and provide essential local services.

In this new regular series we will be putting a spotlight on our advisors, sharing more about them, their experiences with pub diversification projects, their tips for publicans looking to diversify and their thoughts on pubs

What region and counties do you cover as a regional advisor? The South West, including Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly), Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire.

Background in pub industry: I have lived and been around a variety of pubs since I was a young lad as my parents were publicans, so pubs were an important part of my upbringing. I followed in their footsteps and took on my first pub, a Courage tenancy, in the early eighties. I was so thankful for the skills I had learnt from my experiences and the professionalism of my training.

I soon realised my commitment couldn’t and didn’t stop at the boundary of my pub – there were so many other things I could do to help in the wider community. My pub was available and used by many local sports clubs for meetings and after match hosting. This evolved into local official functions and regular community get together events, some with just a few folk and some with many. Making the local community and businesses aware of my willingness to help was the key.       

I really enjoyed my 30 years or so behind various bars including The Royal Oak, Watchfield, Wiltshire (now closed) and The Billacombe Tavern (now The Anchorage), Plymstock, Devon, and also my eight years as Membership Development Consultant for the BII,

What do you love about pubs and publicans?  Every six years or so the rules of running a pub/licensed outlet seem to change slightly to keep up with the changing times. What I love about pubs and publicans is their ability to adapt to keep making their customers’ feel welcome and ensuring the atmosphere of their premises is as friendly as they all do.

To me a great pub has a cross section of local and visitor customers as this creates a wonderful atmosphere, and even if you’re the only person in the pub you will get some great local stories from behind the bar. But it doesn’t stop there – look at the counter; walls, fireplace and seating and imagine the stories they could tell. There’s much, much more to a pub than a lot of people think!

Involvement with Pub is The Hub: I joined in 2013. Knowing what they did I was very excited about being part of this organisation, which is like being part of a pub family.

I visit pubs in the South West and advise publicans on all sorts of diversification and community focused projects, funding and new ideas which will help local folk and the local area.

I have advised on around 70 to 75 services projects. These range from libraries, IT equipment, work clubs, play equipment, shops, post offices, monthly markets, community cafes, cider pressing, takeaway food offers, allotments, wildlife areas and tourism projects.        

What do you enjoy about being an advisor?  I enjoy visiting rural pubs and meeting publicans that are doing the very best they can for their pub and their local area.

To see a project which has needed a little bit of advice and funding come to completion is a really satisfying feeling.

Highlight projects: Most projects are good in one way or another, but among highlights are a micro library project at The Farmers Arms, St Columb Minor, It was created in a space in the bar and this was one of the early library projects that Cornwall Library Services gave a donation towards the cost and supplied the books for. The pub micro library filled the gap that was left by cuts to mobile library vans.

The St John Inn, St John, CornwallPub shop created in record time ( – this shop project was initiated when I was on a train from Leeds to Plymouth in January 2020. The landlady of this pub got on at Manchester and we started chatting. Little did we know there was a pandemic heading our way! All the relevant paperwork and proof of local community support for the shop scheme was collected in very quick time and in even quicker time the publicans bought a shed and erected it in the carpark and this local village store opened to supply the villagers during these troubled times. This was really a fabulous effort by all involved.

The Ring of Bells, Bishopsteignton, Devon,, the two projects (micro library & IT equipment) undertaken with the publican at this pub were special to me because the pub itself had a chequered past, with nobody seeming to make a go of it. The community had tried to buy the freehold but could not raise enough funds. This publican now owns the freehold and has such a community minded approach to the business. I really hope as we come out of this Covid-19 situation that he gets the ongoing support he deserves from the local villagers.

Projects you have helped deliver since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the key impacts they have had:

Projects include The Caradon Inn, Upton Cross, Cornwall –

The Red Lion, Shobrooke, Devon – Red Lion Inn, Shobrooke, Crediton, Devon – Pub is The Hub

The Rose & Crown, Sherborne, Dorset –

These projects are all village stores and were opened during the pandemic so that local residents had a local shop. As you can see, publicans from three different pubs in three different counties are all of one mind, to help local village folk during and beyond the covid crisis.

All of these stores help cut down food miles, and as well as local people coming to the shops for groceries, these services also help combat isolation and loneliness and go some way to help support the wellbeing of people living locally.

Proudest moment as a PiTH advisor: After I first started, following six to nine months work, I realised that publicans in the South West area I was advising for, were “warming up” (for want of a better phrase) and the phone started to ring. Not only were publicans asking for a visit but other organisations too, including local councils, Age UK, the Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as pub cos and local breweries and other companies from the private sector.

That’s when I felt proud because I knew our work spreading the word and giving advice had started to make a difference. 

 Key tips for publicans looking to diversify their pub’s services:

  • Do lots of research – explore the Pub is The Hub website. Give us a call – 01423 546165.
  • Make sure you’re doing it for the right reason.
  • Make sure your local community are in support – you may even find you have some volunteers close by.
  • Get support from local councils (parish, county). Let your local MP know about your plans and achievements.
  • Get any/all permissions needed (eg planning).
  • You don’t have to spend a fortune.
  • Check out what funding is available.
  • If you decide to go for it, don’t drag the project out.
  • Let people know about Pub is The Hub.

Importance of PiTH’s advisors work in post pandemic times: With their day to day social interaction, experience front of house, publicans often get to understand the lives of their customers, families and what’s going on in the local community. This, combined with expert advice from PITH advisors, means the pub is a great place to start in tackling the growing concerns over increased societal loneliness and social isolation. Find out more about PiTH’s ‘Join Inn’ campaign here:

“Publicans are natural community connectors”

Pub is The Hub and publicans, as natural community connectors, continue to work with other organisations, such as parish councils and GPs, alongside willing volunteers, in helping support people at risk of isolation and feelings of loneliness.

If we all pull together I think the day is not far away when we will repeatedly hear the phrase…”Ask at the pub they’ll be able to help.”

General community activities and specialist groups which make use of a pub’s facilities, especially in off peak trading times, can help people connect with regular social interactions which are known to help well-being and good mental health. It can also make the pub more relevant to more people and help bring potential new customers in. PITH advisors are based all over the UK and are able to share good ideas and best practice from other publicans and partners finding ways to help in the fight against loneliness.      

 Help call ‘Last Orders for Loneliness’

Many of the PiTH diversification projects I have been involved with already cover some of the things I am talking about, and can help make a difference to someone’s day including meeting in a pub’s community cafe, bumping into someone you know (or don’t know) in the village store at the pub or chatting with someone when sat next to them whilst learning how to set up an email account at the pub’s new IT Hub. Of course, simple interactions are just a normal part of many pub’s day to day trading, but for some individuals it makes a big difference if they are experiencing feelings of loneliness. Together Pub is The Hub and publicans can help continue to encourage people to ‘Join Inn’ to help call ‘Last Orders for Loneliness’.