The good people of St Albans had a terrible shock on 1 April. Two of the city’s most famous pubs, the Boot and Ye Old Fighting Cocks closed down. The Boot, Grade II-listed and dating from 1500, had a fence around it bearing a sign saying ‘Pub closed due to unsustainable business rates’ while Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, with origins in the 8th century and possibly the oldest pub in Britain, had a sign saying that it would be turned into residential properties with a luxury spa. It was, of course, an April Fool’s prank but one with a serious message. The Boot’s business rates had increased by 87% to £31,000 a year while Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ increased by a massive 280% to £51,000 a year.
This set off a chain of events that has led to the owner of the Boot, Sean Hughes, and his campaigning colleague, Christo Tofalli, who runs the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, being given CAMRA’s Campaigner of the Year award. They had started their Save St Albans Pubs Group in 2017 following that year’s business rates review. They began with a petition and secured the support of local MP Anne Main. They then encouraged both pub owners and pub users to write to the Government and secured a detailed meeting with Treasury officials. The campaign subsequently went national with the formation of the Save UK Pubs network.
The nomination for the award was made by CAMRA’s South Hertfordshire branch. This included local resident and leading beer writer Roger Protz who said, “Sean and Christo’s efforts to campaign on this important subject are truly inspirational. They’re shining examples of how you don’t need to be well connected in the halls of Westminster or the head of a large campaign organisation to bring about change. I’m incredibly proud to be a St Albans resident and see my locals campaign on such an important national cause.”
Sean Hughes, landlord of the Boot said, “We are delighted to collect this award on behalf of all St Albans landlords who deserve recognition with this accolade. We set up the group to show the Government that this kind of taxation rise is not only unfair but is also destroying people’s businesses and leading to pub closures. The campaign has grown national and we will not stop until we have fair business rates for all pubs in the UK. We encourage the rest of the country to get involved and we strongly urge the Government to cap rates increases and launch an urgent review of business rates on pubs before it is too late – once a pub is gone, it is gone forever.”
The award was presented at CAMRA’s recent Members’ Weekend in Dundee and received by South Herts branch secretary Steve Bury who passed it on to the winners on 10 May at the Boot, 4 Market Place, AL3 5DG.
Tony Hedger from CAMRA sources