Saving public houses

Saving public houses


From flea bombs to derelict boats, how one company is helping abandoned UK pubs re-open

On average, about three public houses a day close down permanently in England and Wales. And although that trend is half what it used to be, since 2001 Britain has lost a quarter of its pubs.

But one company is convinced that not only can the trend be slowed down, it is even possible to reverse it.

For 25 years, VPS Security Services have been providing specialist property management services for buildings that become vacant, from local authority housing estates undergoing refurbishment, through to commercial shops and offices temporarily vacant, awaiting new tenants.

“We provide a range of services specifically designed for securing, protecting and maintaining empty properties” explains Peter Houghton, VPS Business Development Manager for the South West of England. “This can be anything from deploying alarm systems and CCTV, through to deep clean and clears, especially if the previous tenants have left the place in a total mess.”

Over the last two decades with the significant rise in pubs closing, VPS have increasingly been asked to secure them from vandalism, squatters, metal thieves and from general neglect. They estimate they are probably the largest carer of vacant pubs in the country.

When a pub closes down, on request VPS will assess the site and aim to secure the property as soon as possible. “If you protect and look after a place, it is far easier to re-let” Peter says.

Late last year, Peter and his team took on a 17th Century pub set in a ‘picture postcard’ Devonshire village, Holbeton, a few miles south east of Plymouth. It had been closed for almost a year, left to deteriorate, with electricity disconnected and meters removed. Peter describes what they found: “The rooms were filthy from top to bottom, and had become infested with fleas. Five fridges and freezers with decomposed contents had been left in the kitchen, together with fifty 25-litre drums of cooking oil, and floors and walls which were yellow and very sticky.”

One of the methods the pest control team deployed, was to use ‘flea bombs’ followed by a deep clean and vacuum operation to remove dead and surviving eggs.

Once the pest problem had been dealt with, the internal contents were cleared and cleaned, with whatever could be recycled, and the rest disposed of carefully. They also discovered an old boat on a dilapidated trailer in the garden. This required cautious demolition where almost all the materials, including the boat’s engine, were recycled. The owner then sent contractors in to renovate the property in readiness for its re-opening. From experience, the VPS team knew that once a site showed signs that it was being refurbished, it could attract the wrong sort of attention, as valuable tools and equipment might be thought to be kept inside. So the security of the property became even more important. VPS sealed the entry points and windows with steel, and installed a Smart Alarm.

The owner and contractors, though, needed regular and flexible access to be able to carry out
their work and inspections, so VPS installed an intelligent Smart Lockbox – a Bluetooth enabled key box with a difference – that allows only authorised personnel access to the property keys and alarm fob.

All this activity took place as Christmas was fast approaching. Peter says “At one stage it really was just like BBC’s ‘DIY SOS’ – we had all hands to the deck, our managers coming in, chainsaws in hand, helping to get the job finished ready for a Christmas opening”

In the end, the job was done in the nick of time, and the village regained this iconic Inn, built in 1617.

“Our teams across the UK have seen this happen over and over, from North to South, East to West, they’ve witnessed communities welcoming their pubs being re-opened. It’s pretty inspiring for me and my colleagues to see our work really can make a difference.” Peter concludes.

The detailed story of the Mildmay Colours Inn can be read in a case study


Saving public houses