Pubs, ‘permacrisis’, and the periphery: adapting to crisis in rural Northumberland


Pubs have experienced an extended period of turbulence over the past two decades emerging from unfavourable policy decisions, changing consumption patterns and most recently a global pandemic cumulating in a cost-of-living crisis. The poverty of existing theory around the nature and extent of complex, interconnected, and spatially contingent crises is explored within isolated, rural settings in Northumberland that exemplify the role of pubs in rural resilience. This facilitates the production of locally-embedded vocabularies to evaluate everyday experiences of crisis within Northumberland’s pub and beer industry.

The analysis centres around the key themes of vulnerability and opportunity; reorientation; and everyday experiences of innovation and adaptation. These facets are deemed to be encountered in an evolving but persisting environment of crisis within rural communities. The notion of ‘permacrisis’ is used to explore this experience.

Key findings

Rural exceptionalism is challenged through understandings of how pubs ingrain adaptability into business plans that serve the needs of their individual communities.

Focusing business plans around a local sense of identity and co-operation between local businesses is considered successful in improving adaptability.

Resilience is narrated as collective, as economic and community wellbeing are deemed interdependent and relies on the co-operation and mutual support between local businesses.

Resilience is connected to, and sometimes in contention with, a strong sense of social responsibility.

Policies during the pandemic incentivised temporary pub closure - due to the higher cost of remaining open than to accept government grants - however many pubs remained open despite financial difficulty in order to preserve community connections out of fear over losing regular customers and damaging community wellbeing/loyalties. Crisis policies were not context-sensitive and did not place importance upon social value functions of businesses. This has (re)enforced a distrust in local and national government’s ability and willingness to assist rural recovery and future development.

Conclusions and recommendations

  • The multifunctionality of pubs creates both challenges and opportunities, but the range of core functions that establish social value must be preserved in order for adaptation to be deemed successful. Such core functions include inclusiveness, socialising, collaborative business networks, a rural ‘sense of place’, and (charitable) civic participation.
  • Resilience is multi-faceted, especially in such rural settings where civil society is responsible for a wider range of wellbeing functions, and thus future policy must support the continuation and viability of business functions that produce social value.