Monday, March 26, 2007

LEWES ARMS: The First 100 days

It began with an essay in The Generalist in October last year, [State of the Nation: Think About Your Local), developed into a blog of its own ( and attracted national press cioverage,was featured on Radio 4's AM programme and the story was syndicated worldwide through Reuters (being picked up by the Jamaica Gleaner amongst others).

Now The Guardian have picked up the issue again, 100 days into a boycott of the pub that has reduced the Lewes Arms takings by 90%, become a legend in the beer world and has dragged Greene King back into the spotlight.

This story was picked up by Nick Cohen in The Observer who wrote:
'Furthermore: Please raise a glass to Lewes's drinking classes. At Westminster tomorrow, there will be a rally for the Sustainable Communities Bill, an attempt by MPs from all parties to break up the centralised English state by giving local authorities the power to deal with social and environmental grievances. It's a worthy measure, but what sets this initiative apart from many other good causes is the number of boozers who support it. Publicans, small breweries and the Campaign for Real Ale - the vanguard of England's beer-drinking classes, in short - are rallying behind the bill and being radicalised in the process.

'Writing in the Guardian last week, Tim Minogue of Private Eye explained why. He is one of a group of pickets who are turning customers away from the Lewes Arms. The Greene King conglomerate owns the 220-year-old Sussex pub and in December decided to practise restrictive trading by refusing to sell the bitter from Lewes's independent brewery. As with other exploitations of their market dominance by the pub corporations, Greene King's ban had nothing to do with drinkers' wishes, but was an act of commercial spite against a small business rival. Rather magnificently, its customers responded with a mass boycott that has turned the Lewes Arms into a ghost pub. '

'We usually discuss political cynicism in grand terms and talk about globalisation, the judges and the EU undermining democracy. More insidious is the inability of the English to make lives in their localities a bit better. If this bill succeeds, Lewes council will be able to compel Greene King to stock Harvey's Bitter. If it falls, it won't. That strikes me as reason enough for MPs to vote for it.'
Also see follow-up story in The Publican, the leading trade magazine.

STOP PRESS: Business section of today's Evening Standard:

Greene King makes locals more local
Landlords are to be given greater power to run local pubs after a shake-up by Greene King.

The brewer has been under fire in Lewes, West (?) Sussex, for removing guest bitter Harveys from the Lewes Arms. Regulars boycotted the pub and burnt effigies of Greene King management.

Today the company is splittting its managed house operations into local pubs, to be run by Jonathan Lawson and "destination" pubs headed by Jonathan Webster.

Lawson joined from sainbury's where he was director of the convenience store business. Webster was chief executive at Hardy & Hansons. Mark Angela who ran the business befored the split, is lraving with a year's salary of around £450,000.

Greene King said the move is not connected to its Lewes troubles. But chief executive Rooney Anand said: "Managers will be given greater autonomy and flexibility to match individual pub offers to local needs.

Greene King's 510 local pubs will focus on selling beer while its 280 larger "destination" pubs and hotels are to be food led.

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