Campaign for Real Ale chief Kimberley Martin says it is not all gloom and doom for the local pub. RICHARD MAYHEW-SMITH heads up to the bar to find out more
PUBS modelled on traditional boozers in places such as west and south-west London might be the only way to save the industry from extinction, according to the new head of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in London.
Kimberley Martin, previously chair of CAMRA's west London region, was elected in March to look after the interests of all the capital's pubs amid a tide of closures which is claiming 39 boozers each month across the UK.
"When a community loses its pub it means the end of a place to sort out local problems, chat to the lonely and enjoy fellowship," she says.
"But I think areas with a bit of history naturally seem to support the kind of pubs that are a spearhead against something rather sad that's happening to a fine old tradition."
In 2007, the last year figures are available for, 1,400 pubs closed and Ms Martin said that with the credit crunch more are set to go to the wall.
In Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston alone, there are 160 public houses which could be vulnerable to closure.
But the new CAMRA boss says that she will 'make the case again and again against turning pub sites into luxury housing'.
Landlords are turning in their leases for a variety of reasons, with some saying it is hard to compete with cheap alcohol sold by supermarkets.
Ms Martin admits fans of 'real ale' - any beer that is still alive and not pasteurised - are often seen as a bit of an army wearing 'corduroys and sandals and possessing beards'.
"But the cause over the years has brought in all kinds of people who want to see the old-fashioned surroundings that a traditional pub offers," she says.
The CAMRA campaigner said that Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond seem to possess more 'traditional' pubs than any other area of London, and it is vital to stand up for these establishments before they are undermined by planners' ideas or a lack of commitment from customers or landlords.
Among the many pubs Ms Martin has visited and admired one or two have stood out, including the Willoughby Arms, in Willoughby Road, Kingston, the Mawson Arms, in The Mall, Chiswick, and the Orange Tree, in Kew Road, Richmond.
"The common thread in the pubs that I think will do very well in the future are those that look after their old-fashioned designs, and keep them," says Ms Martin.
"Oak beams are helpful, but it's also a matter of really old fashioned things like making you feel comfortable, and of course serving beer properly.
"In each case when these pubs have had a revamp it hasn't meant turning everything into some glitzy brasserie."
She also points to a few pubs further afield, including the Prince Alfred in Maida Vale and the Doves in Hammersmith.
At the Willoughby Arms, publican Rick Robinson says he welcomed the first signs in the town that it was willing to fight to keep its pubs open.
"Recently the council said that any change of use suggested for a pub could not just be rubber-stamped," he says.
"Any idea like that and people will now have to go through a full planning process.
"That's all to the good and it shows that if you push hard to do something worthwhile for a borough it can be taken seriously."
Mr Robinson says that his own fightback for survival included a few imaginative moves.
He picks up a remote control, switches it on and suddenly one of the many glassy-eyed stuffed deer heads on the pub's wall burst into song and fill the pub with ditties like 'rollin', rollin' ... all the wagons'.
"I think the days are certainly over when you could just say a pub is a pub is a pub," says Mr Robinson.
He himself has gone for a number of different rooms with a quirky take on decor - the idea being that a customer can find just the right place to suit themselves.
"I've also got several screens where sports lovers can watch a couple of matches at the same time," he adds. "It's brilliant when there's two soccer semi-finals going on at the same time." At other times of the year he has introduced strawberries and cream during Wimbledon.
Mr Robinson says his wife Lysa is often rocked by his flow of ideas to keep his customers happy - snooker buffs or deer antler aficionados.
In another room there are pages of newspapers on the walls, celebrating his own pub's existence, and in another room there are movie posters plastered on the walls.
In one corner you'll even see a Humphrey Bogart wryly smiling down on all the efforts to keep a good old British tradition alive and kicking.