Wetherspoons: the prole pub snobs love to picket
Given that British drinkers lament the closure of dozens of pubs each week, you would have thought news of a new one opening up would be celebrated. Not so. The recent purchase of new premises by the pub chain JD Wetherspoon in the Leeds suburb of Headingley has been met with petitions and protests, led by the town’s Labour councillors.
The Elinor Lupton Centre, a grade-two listed building, was once a music centre and theatre belonging to Leeds Girls’ High School. It has been derelict since 2010, until it was purchased by the pub chain last week. JD Wetherspoon has promised to spend £1.5million on the refurbishment and said that the new pub will create 50 jobs.
Local anti-pub campaigners have been trying to block Wetherspoons taking over the premises for years. They had been calling for the building to be turned into a community centre, and are apparently ‘disappointed’ that the school chose Wetherspoons over the two community groups who were also offering to buy it. It is unclear why the community groups did not purchase it, but given that the building was sold on the open market, it seems likely they simply couldn’t meet the asking price.
Earlier this year, it was reported that a supermarket chain was vying to buy the property, but this sparked little protest. Maybe it’s just that the people of Headingley feel they already have too many pubs servicing the area. Headingley has a large student population and is often full of rugby and cricket fans off to see a match at Headingley Stadium. Labour councillor Neil Walshaw echoed this sentiment when he told the Yorkshire Evening Post: ‘Yet another pub in Headingley, in a location close to so many homes, is not what Headingley needs.’
This would be easier to swallow if it was any old pub opening up. But the fact remains that whenever a local campaign is launched to prevent the opening of a new boozer, that new boozer is almost always a Wetherspoons. As recent campaigns against new pubs in Bristol and Hampshire have shown, the pub chain seems to provoke the ire of local-council types like no other.
What lies behind these anti-Wetherspoons campaigns is nothing other than old-fashioned snobbery. Spoons, with its discount booze, Thursday-night curry club and carbon-copy interiors, elicits a unique vitriol among NIMBYists. Wetherspoons is seen as a magnet for the wrong kind of people – gruff blokes who work with their hands. It’s the sort of establishment that is just a bit too grubby to be worthy of inhabiting a listed building. It brings the whole area down, don’t you know. Wetherspoons manages to give off the vibe of a faceless corporate entity and a working man’s club all at the same time – neither of which are approved of by the chattering classes. It is their dream team of hate: big business and chavs.
Though Wetherspoons has bought the premises in Headingley, it has yet to be granted permission to convert it into a pub. Local campaigns have successfully lobbied against Wetherspoons being granted such permission in the past. If permission were to be denied, the building could remain derelict for some time. And to what end? It’s difficult to imagine any other establishment short of McDonald’s prompting such fury. But, much like McDonald’s, once the pub is open it will doubtless prove popular. Then it will become clear that Spoons-bashers are a very small, if vocal, minority.