Friday, 8 November 2013

The last moments of The Alma

Kirsty Valentine outside The Alma on eviction day

It’s 9.20am on a Friday morning and the Alma pub, recently crowned as North London Cider pub of the year by Camra, is busy. It isn’t open. The only drinks being consumed are tea and coffee. Everyone there, locals, friends and supporters, local MP Jeremy Corbyn, writer Pete Brown, are not there to toast landlady’s Kirsty Valentine’s success, but to be with her and offer support as bailiffs are expected at any moment to turf her out.

It’s the culmination of four years of fighting with owners, Enterprise Inns, the pub company (pubco) which own the pub. Kirsty has vigorously campaigned to reduce the rent, claiming it was impossible for her to make decent standard of living; conversely Enterprise claim they have tried to help find a solution.

But the time for negotiation ended on Thursday when Kirsty lost in court.

At 9.30, a representative from Enterprise is standing outside the locked doors of the pub with a man in a hi-vis jacket; he’s the man who will fix shutters to the doors and windows when the bailiff arrives.
Enterprise representative, plus 'shutters man' arrive

A locksmith appears. He looks somewhat surprised at the sight inside. ‘I was told this was a non-confrontational job, look at ‘em. There’s dozens in there. No one wants to lose their local.’ He speaks in a friendly manner, with an energetic, north-London ‘geezer’ accent.

When he does arrive, the bailiff is quiet, evidently keen not to be drawn into a confrontation. Still, two police officers pull up in a marked car, there to ensure there is no breach of the peace. Inside the pub, Kirsty is locked in conversations with lawyers trying desperately to come up with a last minute offer which might satisfy Enterprise’s demands. I’m told that Enterprise have said they will not accept any offer and just want her out (Enterprise dispute this).

Just after ten, the bailiff and Kirsty go to a back room of the pub to discuss matters. It’s agreed that they will leave the pub; there is no need for police, and bags of possessions, heaped on the floor start to be taken out.

With tears welling up, Kirsty goes behind the bar one final time and beckons her supporters to come and join her. They line up and hug; one final act of defiance before becoming a statistic, one of the 26 pubs which shut every week. The Alma is now closed.
Kirsty goes behind the bar one final time


Enterprise insist they are very keen to reopen The Alma as soon as possible, countering fears that it could become a block of flats or a supermarket. In a statement, the company describe the Newington Green site as ‘a great pub with a fantastic community spirit and we want it to continue to thrive’. They also claim that the dispute actually is ‘a clear example where the tied pub model…. has provided extraordinary levels of support, flexibility and ultimately direct financial assistance to a tenant'.

They add: ‘Regrettably therefore, we have been left with no alternative but to revoke her tenancy and will seek to put in place a new operator as soon as possible.’

As for Kirsty, she has lost her home – she lived above the pub – her business and livelihood – ‘they’ve wiped me out in 12 hours’ she says. Friends have rallied round and offered her places to stay while she continues her next move.

‘I can’t even begin to consider anything much because I’m just so, I’m just in shock. It’s a mixture of shock and relief that it’s finally all over.'

As for whether she will return to the pub trade, she is very unsure.

'I need to go away and sit in the corner for a very long time and contemplate things.'

But considering the tumultuous events of the day, she sounds remarkably chipper and stoical; buoyed by the impressive support during her final moments at the pub.

'I was so thrilled, it's made it so much easier to deal with. For many many months, I have wondered what his moment would feel like that and it's nothing like my greatest fears.I don't feel ashamed and I don't feel embarrassed. I feel extremely proud and honoured that everyone stuck by my side. I'm extremely proud I'm going out with my head held high. My staff are very loyal and are extremely upset. It's a very sad day, but at the same token it's made it very much easier to know I'm very loved and respected.'

For more background on the argument between publicans and pubcos, and the campaign for pubco reform, visit here.

Note - for legal reasons any comments left under this piece will be treated with particular caution. Thanks


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Sorry for removing the above comment. Would be delighted to republish if it was amended slightly. Thanks. If you want to discuss it further please email

  3. Sadly Kirsty isn't the first and definitely won't be the last - PubCo churn has resulted in thousands of evicted Landlords. Many are award-winning licencees like myself and Kirsty - draw what you will from that but my opinion is the beer-tie has outlived it's usefulness

  4. Thank you Joel for a great and honest account of the day, something that others in your industry are reluctant to share. It is with sadness we say goodbye to one of the countries finest publicans and the answer is with the pub owning companies who are repeatedly getting things so outstandingly wrong. A sad day indeed, but I am sure there will be more.

  5. Joel, thanks for your report. I wonder whether you or anyone else can throw some light on the activity of the licensed trade's only trade publication - The Publicans Morning Advertiser.

    It's editorial team put out several Tweets this morning stating its reporter had been "thrown out" of the Alma. A picture showing the hapless reporter outside the pub with arms spread wide in frustration was accompanied by the editor's (Rob Willock) stating he should have despatched a bodyguard. The clear inference was that the young reporter was intimidated and physically ejected from the pub by suppporters of Kirsty.

    Interestingly the PMA's very belated and curt report of Kirsty's eviction said the PMA was in attendance but was asked to leave - somewhat different to the description previously tweeted by the editor and his senior staff.

    Some clarification of actually what happened might reveal what many, many publicans suspect which is that the editorial team at the PMA are involved in a major defence of the Pub Cos treatment of its tenants such as Kirsty.

    1. Willock was excessive to use words like 'ejected' and 'thrown out' to describe Ellie being asked to leave the pub for a few minutes before the bailiffs were allowed in. Everything was entirely genial - the clip here shows just how Ellie Bothwell had been intimidated by the angry mob Willock envisaged in his turgid childlike imagination.

      Willock enjoys portraying licensees who are anti pubco as failed publicans who are uncouth, offensive, bitter, have an axe to grind and are vindictive, abusive, aggressive and dangerous toward everyone and the PMA in particular. It is a ridiculous position to have taken - why on earth would anyone in our position - like that of Kirsty - show any antipathy toward a publication whatsoever unless there were justification for it?

      Publicans being bullied by pubco's want the press on our side, not against us. We are not the abusers, we are the abused. It''s Willock's antagonsim toward us that is the problem. It is so irrational it's impossible to see how it can have been adopted without some cynical ulterior motive at play.

      Here's Ellie being harassed by a prominent anti tie campaigner, filmed by me, an aggressive, bitter failed tied tenant:

  6. Very sad and angry to hear of yet another great community pub closing.

  7. I saw the reporter and briefly spoke and also saw he pose for the photograph that was tweeted earlier today. I didn't, though, see or hear her being asked to leave so I don't know those circumstances. I certainly did not see any unpleasantness or intimidation towards her by anyone at the Alma.

  8. Kirsty's situation isn't unique, it happens day in day out all around the UK as the pubcos bleed the pub sector dry. All tied leases are 'fully repairing and insuring' with the onus on the tenant in occupation to comply - a perfect scenario that allows the pubco to charge too much for beer and rent, grab all of the tenants cash which very quickly (less than 2 years) forces them out of business. A new lamb to the slaughter armed with buckets full of fresh cash quickly follows - and so the process begins again. Forget the closure rate its the business failure rate that needs to be looked at. Government need to step in as a matter of urgency and stop this nonsense. The beer tie; an arrangement that forces the tenant to buy beer off the pubco at extortionate rates is one of the last Great British Scams. The pub sector and the beer tie are in urgent need of reform.

    1. But Steve - all tied leases aren't fully repairing - some are and some aren't.
      Facts getting in the way of a good story?

    2. Yes - but not all have the the restrictive and entirely anti-competitive purchase agreement that tied pubs have. The 'beer tie' allows the landlord (in Kirsty's case; Enterprise Inns) to charge ridiculous prices for beer, sometimes as much as double as would otherwise be available on the open market, which eventually forces (once all of their money has gone) the tenant out of business. This, together with the RPI clause, ensures tenant failure does not affect the landlord. A 'revolving door' policy of eager new tenants is all that's needed to keep the gravy train firmly on the rails. Look around you - a nationa of serially failing, under-invested tied pubco pubs, and many, many destroyed lives sucked up and spat out by a tied pub system that simply doesn't work. Like I said, the beer tie is the last #greatbritishscam

    3. Your views on the tie are well known. It's a fact, however, that not all tied pubs are fully repairing. Just trying to nail your initial inaccuracy in that regard.

    4. While on the other hand of course your completely insightful views posted anonymously are not known at all.

      Given as you say that not ALL tied pubs have fully repairing and insuring leases - how many don't? Do you know? Is it a significant proportion of the total number of tied leases? It's not. Is it? Just pointing out that your point has no point.

    5. I don't know the mix, neither does Steve, nor do you. Only the landlords know.
      As they say in American court dramas - it goes to credibility.
      If Steve can, if we're generous, be mistaken, or if we're less generous, lie on the FRI point, how credible are his other statements and claims?

  9. Nobody is ever in there though during the week. If people love it so much, why not support it?

  10. If I were behind on rent payments for my flat my landlord would evict me...

    1. Too simplistic. Rents in the pub sector are assessed using the RICS valuation method which is overseen by the Trade Valuation Group. It’s a messy affair full of compromised members such as Rob May, a senior employee of Enterprise Inns who up until recently was the chair of the TRVG. I have a list of other members of the group and it is very clear that the group, charged with developing fair and reasonable methods of valuation for pubs is in fact almost totally staffed by those directly representing the interests of the pubcos. Tied tenants simply don’t stand a chance.

    2. Private landlords don't usually force tenants into arrears with huge rent increases and above inflation supply price hikes. Oh, and they usually provide accommodation that is fit for purpose. And when it gets run down, they repair it.

  11. It is standard practice for leases in the commercial sector, for the tenant to be responsible for repairs. Zombie pubcos in that regard following standard commercial practice. That there may be exceptions does not mean it is not the norm.

    A sad day for The Alma, but there always has to be at least one troll ...

    We have to strip pubs away from pubcos, they are doing nothing for the pubs, as we see with The Alma.

    The trade rag, is nothing less than a mouthpiece for the pubcos. If their reporter was slung out of The Alma, well done whoever slung the hack out.

    1. It may have been the norm for tied leases to be FRI in the past, but not now, A quick skim through the vacancies on the pubcos' websites will show that there are a variety of offerings.

      As for trolling - is pointing out an error in a post trolling? If so - guilty m'lud!

    2. FRI may have been the norm in the past, but not now. A skim through the pubco vacancies will show a range of different offers.

      As for trolling - if pointing out factual errors is trolling then guilty m'lud.

  12. The first I knew the bailiffs were moving in was when an alert went out Thursday night, which I was only too happy to re-tweet. And I am pleased to see from Joe Taylor’s excellent article, people turned out Friday morning.

    This is how Ted Tuppen, chief executive of Enterprise Inns, treats hard working pub landlords, destroys their businesses, kicks them out of their homes, then either finds another mug to lose their life savings, or sells the pub on for redevelopment.

    The Alma, until Kirsty took it over, was a pub to avoid. Kirsty put her heart and soul, worked her socks off, into building up the reputation of The Alma. She turned a pub to avoid into a pub worth visiting.

    Enterprise is a zombie company, it does not make a profit, it is in debt and can barely meet its interest payments. It screws pub landlords by charging overinflated rents, by forcing them to buy their drinks from the pubco at often near double the market rate. As a result the pub fails. When the pub fails, the pubco either finds another mug to lose their life savings or where the pub occupies a prime site, sells the pub for redevelopment.

  13. If I had known the Morning Advertiser reporter was asked to leave on Friday morning, I would have advised against it. Regardless of whatever dispute there may be with the magazine, hampering the work of a reporter is never wise. The reporter was only doing her job.

    1. You make a good point Joel about not hampering a reporter but circumstances are extreme; It's who she was doing her job for that is the problem. Feelings run high against the Publican's Morning Advertiser (PMA), reporter Ellie Bothwell's employer.

      This is because many Tied Publicans believe the PMA could be more aptly named the Pubco's Morning Advertiser. The publication shows little regard for the tied-tenants' position and essentially presents a pro pubco view: When tied tenants' businesses fail they have only themselves to blame – they signed the contract. They have no respect for a publication that treats its nominal audience with such disdain.

      On top of that the PMA online forum, long regarded as a barometer of the Tied Trade, followed by pundits and politicians to help gauge the mood of the industry, has been blocked to several publican contributors while several prominent, very obvious pro pubco apologists are allowed to post free rein. This is seen widely by Tied-tenants as a blatant move to stifle debate over abuse of the Tie i.e. imbalance of contracts, through a period of intense government and public scrutiny of the pubco's in advance of regulation coming into the sector. The absence of wide ranging debate on the online forum presents a rather more positive default view of pubco behaviour than could otherwise be sustained in the face of a blizzard of damning evidence there is out in the real world that's showing a pub sector in rapid collapse, with endemic abuse of contract, misrepresentation, mis-selling and calculated intimidation and bullying of tenants.

      What happened to Kirsty is not at all uncommon and many publican's in her situation will regard the PMA's presence, under current editorial bias, as a form of insider gloating. Look at the tone of the editor's tweets yesterday.

    2. Who' s been blocked? The PMA say it's only you,

  14. Very sad times, but not surprising. I remember Ted Tuppen saying..' There is no such thing as a bad pub. Only bad tenants'! His words, not mine. Printed in the MA sometime ago. So I wonder why they have evicted as successful, award winning tenant!?! Well its simple really.....greed, and the fact she had the audacity to campaign for a life! You pay rent on the building, and rent through the tie IT DOES NOT WORK. simple!!

  15. An interesting analysis of the latest accounts for Punch Taverns. Basically it confirms they are a zombie company and screwing pub landlords.

    For Punch Taverns, the average debt per pub equates to £640k [last year £593k] and they indicate the average value per pub of £643k [last year £597k] . Even if the extraneous “other” assets and borrowings were set aside the answer would be similar average debt £581k [£540k] and pubs valued at £585k [£543k]. Both the average asset value and borrowing per pub has increased over the past year. These indicate that the borrowing are just about equal to the property value. If nothing else, this is unsustainable, and raises a question mark on the value of the properties, have they overstated the value of the properties?

    The average Punch Tavern landlord is earning only £15k per annum, if their 4096 pubs had been free of tie and owned by the current tenant their average profit would be just £62k per annum.

    I would imagine accounts for Enterprise Inns would tell a similar story.

    Zombie companies that are dead, but no one willing to deal the death blow.

    The banks like to maintain the myth, that way they remain on the asset side of the balance sheet, not the liability side.

    Interest rates are at record low. Once they start to climb these zombie companies will go bust.

    The accounts for Punch shows the situation is unsustainable.


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