This afternoon I was made aware of this news story about a campaign against Dancing Man Brewery’s proposed use of The Wool House in Southampton as a brewpub, restaurant and entertainment space.
The Wool House currently lies empty and unused, after having been used over the summer by local arts group, Element Arts. It sits facing out towards the docks and ferry terminals. Previously it housed The Maritime Museum, which has now been relocated to the more central location of the recently developed Cultural Quarter (and renamed The SeaCity Museum in the process). Prior to housing The Maritime Museum, which it had done since 1966, The Wool House had been used to store wool for export since it’s construction in the late 14th century.
Many of the comments made by people on the Daily Echo website make reference to The Wool House being a “community asset”. Their tone implying that a public house could in no possibly way also be a “community asset”. I suspect that some people’s aversion to the idea of a brewpub moving into the space will be based on the idea that pubs are seedy places, full of drunken debauchary and fights, unsafe for any civilised human being. Whilst some pubs can resemble such a scene, generally on a Friday or Saturday night, most don’t, and wouldn’t want to either.
What seems to pass many people by is that it isn’t perpetually the weekend in a pub. If you visit The Platform Tavern (the pub on which Dancing Man currently brew their beers) on a Tuesday for example, you will find a relatively quiet pub where you can sit, relax, read a book or newspaper, or even work or socialise.
In many places in the UK, the pub is the community space. Turning The Wool House into a brewpub and resturant wouldn’t mean the loss of a community space, but the repurposing of one. Just because it sells alcohol doesn’t mean you have to drink alcohol. It is entirely possible to visit a pub without buying a beer, or wine, or spirits.
In my opinion, Southampton’s beer scene is significantly lacking behind many other UK cities, so I may be somewhat biased on this matter. That’s not to say I don’t have an opinion on art in Southampton. There is absolutely no reason why the two can’t co-exist (limited edition beer bottle labels, anyone?). A pub is as good a place as any to showcase art to an audience that in some cases wouldn’t otherwise see it. There is also no reason why the proposed live music space in The Wool House couldn’t be used for performances other than the live blues acts upon which The Platform Tavern has developed it’s reputation.
I’m sure each side will have their vocal minorities, and that the louder minority will win their case. I sincerely hope that the Dancing Man Brewery do get to move in and start building next year, not least because I’m looking forward to writing about the new place when it opens. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, and will most likely be visiting it again soon.
(Edited to reflect the corrections highlighted within the comments)