02 March 2023

Exploring co-working potential for rural pubs

Supporting the local economy and community

The UK pub industry has never faced so many challenges, writes Jane Deville, Research Fellow, University of Lincoln. In the decade to 2018, the number of pubs declined by 23% and, during the pandemic, it has been reported that six pubs were demolished or converted a week. In rural areas, this loss has been felt particularly strongly due to their role in supporting the local economy and enhancing community cohesion. This is particularly the case in settlements where the pub is the only remaining community establishment following the loss of amenities such as schools, shops and village halls.

Shift in working patterns

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a shift towards home and remote-working. Between 2019 and 2022, it is estimated that the number of homeworkers doubled to 9.9 million, accounting for almost a quarter of workers in rural areas. As the number of people working from home has increased, so too has the demand for co-working spaces, largely driven by businesses and workers rethinking their working practices.

As well as offering shared work environments and meeting spaces, these co-working spaces may offer opportunities for users to interact with each other, network and generate new business ideas. They can help improve work-life balance, minimise commuting times, reduce the sense of isolation associated with remote-working and help strengthen the sense of identity within rural communities.

As social spaces at the heart of their communities, pubs ought to be well placed to offer co-working space to rural workers looking for somewhere other than their home desk to work. Such diversification may be an opportunity for pubs to innovate, broaden their income and help maintain their viability.

A recent survey by the Plunkett Foundation found that the idea was already gaining traction, with 12% of rural community pubs offering this service. However, there is little existing research on the success of these ventures nor an understanding of whether the ‘co-working pub’ model could be replicated more widely across different pub-ownership models and rural communities.

NICRE-funded research

Our research, which is one of seven projects to be commissioned by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE), therefore aims to explore the potential for rural pubs to offer co-working space to remote and home workers. As the project develops, we will gather the views of landlords, co-workers and representatives from the wider rural community to enable us to examine the barriers and enablers for pubs to offer co-working spaces.

We will explore the implications of co-working in pubs for rural community resilience and meeting post-pandemic ways of working. The findings and lessons learned will be distilled into a Rural Co-working Pub Toolkit to provide practical guidance to the pub industry, rural pub managers and those working in rural community development.