Death knell tolls for pubs, warning

PUBLISHED: 07:10 26 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:05 22 October 2010

An award-winning landlord who was forced to close his West Norfolk freehouse has spoken about the struggle to keep rural pubs alive.

An award-winning landlord who was forced to close his west Norfolk freehouse has spoken about the struggle to keep rural pubs alive.

Keith Fiddy, who has run the Bell in Grimston, near King's Lynn, for seven years, claims cheap supermarket booze and a shift in drinking culture have marked the death knell for many community locals.

He spoke ahead of a planning meeting next week, when he hopes West Norfolk councillors will back his last- ditch attempt to turn his fortunes round and convert the pub into a bed and breakfast.

The Bell - the only hostelry in the village - closed as a

pub in December last year, after he and partner Sarah Howell agreed they had had enough.

They believe councillors have recognised the need to be less sentimental about the loss of rural pubs when the business simply does not have the support and trade coming through the door.

"We were losing £27,000 a year," said Mr Fiddy, 57, who took on the bar when it was already in trouble in 1999 and spent £275,000 on refurbishment.

"I can't really say I failed the village - I think the village failed us.

"I did everything I could to make it work and there isn't a man who is more disappointed than me."

Mr Fiddy juggled his work as a truck driver with pulling pints to try and keep the business afloat.

He had experienced success with two other pubs that

were down on their luck -

The Swan at Ingham, near Stalham, where he won two awards for services to

tourism and the community, and The Three Horseshoes

at Titchwell, near Hunstanton.

"We've gutted this place out and added guest bedrooms because that was the only

way we could survive," he said.

"People's expectations of life have changed, finances have got tight and they can enjoy a cheap drink in their own home from the supermarket, off-licence or corner shop.

"I cannot keep throwing good money after bad.

"I love the trade but I honestly don't know how I had the guts to persevere."

The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), which has the Bell listed in its Good Beer Guide 2006, opposes Mr Fiddy's change-of-use plans, pointing out the village would lose an "employment source".

Other objectors have criticised the alterations, which they believe have spoiled the layout of the pub as a pleasant place to drink.

The plan is expected to be approved by the development control board next Monday.

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