One of our local pubs, The Tumbledown Dick (The Tumble Down Dick), was shut down on 12th February 2008 for “environmental health reasons”. Whilst there’s no argument that the pub was in need of a serious renovation it’s a crying shame that this was the last straw after years of serious underinvestment (aka neglect) by its string of owners (most lately, Scottish & Newcastle and The Spirit Group).
The Tumbledown Dick was a unique venue. Whilst as many as 3 pubs a day are shutting down recently and the remainder are turning into pretentious “gastro-pubs” or being re-blanded as carbon-copy chains (same national beer, same food, same decor in every pub in the chain, regardless of its location in the country) the Tumbledown, for years, has been a champion of live music.
From “the battle of the bands” to some of the most excellent tribute groups and the Quarantine Club, The Tumbledown Dick was packed on Friday & Saturday nights and, since the closure, the locals & regulars have lost a the opportunity to socialise on their very own doorstep. I’d be down there once a month for a gig but now I hardly ever go out; That’s the impact that the closure of this pub has on individuals in the community and 15 months without a cornerstone of your social life in place is far too long.
What’s worse is the fact that neither the owners, The Spirit Group, nor the local Rushmoor Borough Council seem either willing or able to give enquirers a straight answer. Questions into the future of the pub are either ignored, patronised or simply rebuffed. After 63 weeks of closure without anybody willing to be honest about The Tumbledown Dick, the nigh-on 1300 people who signed a petition to save the pub are still waiting for answers.
As such I’ve written and sent an email letter to the Rushmoor Borough Councillors, David Clifford, Gareth Lyon and Brian Parker who are all elected representatives of the people living in the Empress Ward of Farnborough and to local MP the Rt Hon Gerald Howarth. In addition I’ve cc’d the local News & Mail Group who publish The Farnborough News and the local TV stations Meridian (ITV) and BBC South.
Hopefully the escalation of this matter will bring some positive action and somebody will actually speak to the residents and patrons about the future of their beloved pub, so without further ado, here is the text of my letter;
Dear Councillors David Clifford, Gareth Lyon & Brian Parker and the Rt Hon Gerald Howarth MP.
As a Farnborough resident I am extremely concerned about the continued closure of the Tumbledown Dick pub in Farnborough, Hampshire, and the continued lack of and the nature of communications regarding this establishment. After nearly 15 months of dereliction there is still no word as to the future of the pub. This has had, and continues to have, consequences beyond the mere loss of one of Farnborough’s few drinking establishments and I shall list the issues, in no particular order of importance.
The closure of The Tumbledown Dick for “environmental health reasons” was initially a very simple and valid reason. A “dirty glass”, damp toilet floors, asbestos in the cellar and staff quarters in need of a lick of paint are all easily rectifiable problems. To be closed for 63 weeks to fix these issues is puzzling to say the least.
As a person who is professionally involved with UK SMEs and a businessman myself, the closure of the pub for 15 months makes no business sense at all. As I understand it, “The Venue” or “Dick’s Bar”, the music venue on the side of The Tumbledown Dick, was particularly popular at weekends for live bands and had earned a good reputation for regular and profitable entertainment. I would calculate that the loss of business since 12th February 2008 outweighs the potential earnings had The Tumbledown Dick been repaired and stayed open and it seems that, by remaining closed, this appears to be a very unwise business decision.
Leading on from this point The White Hart in Frimley is looking very polished these days. Whilst I know this pub is across the border in Surrey and within another borough council’s ward it’s interesting that it belongs to The Spirit Group who also own The Tumbledown Dick. I understand it has undergone extensive renovation, including a roof repair and underpinning, neither of which are easy jobs. It’s very frustrating to know that The White Hart is thoroughly rejuvenated whilst our own Farnborough pub sits derelict. As a member of the Campaign for Real Ale I am acutely aware of the rate of closure of pubs in this country and to live in a town of reasonable affluence like Farnborough it makes no sense that The Tumbledown Dick, one of the most important hubs of the community, remains closed.
As for enquiries into the future of the pub these all seem to have been met with various responses ranging from phonecalls and emails to The Spirit Group being completely ignored, through the regular “there is nobody available to deal with your request right now” despite requests that, when somebody does become available, a simple response by phone or email is returned as a common courtesy, to the latest “the pub will remain shut”. The Tumbledown Dick has suffered from major neglect for many years now and it seems that this continues with the owners treating the clientele, who once lined their pockets, with a similar contempt. In addition other communications, with Rushmoor Councillors, have received similarly dismissive or evasive responses.
Well over one thousand people would like to see The Tumbledown Dick restored and they particularly rue the loss of the music venue on Friday and Saturday nights. Whilst there is The West End Centre in Aldershot and The Agincourt in Camberley, Farnborough has lost its own renowned musical nucleus where homegrown talent once had the opportunity to add cultural value to this otherwise quiet town.
These same people see construction all around Farnborough from the building of exclusive apartments and mini housing estates, the new Farnborough Central business development, plush car showrooms, exclusive new hotels, an escalation of the number of flights into Farnborough and, after over a decade of waiting, a new shopping centre. And yet nobody appears to be doing anything positive for the community of Farnborough who simply need their unique pub & live music venue back.
As elected public servants I kindly request that you provide me with a response to the issue of the closure of and the future of The Tumbledown Dick and furnish me with any details & communications of public interest pertaining to the events leading up to, during and since the closure of the pub. Swift, positive and decisive action needs to be taken to ensure that the loyal patrons of Farnborough are no longer ignored either as individuals or as a group. I would like to remind you that over one thousand two hundred people have, up until now, patiently waited for a competent, honest and professional response.
I thank you for your time and look forward to your answers.
Paul Mackenzie Ross
The email was sent at 23:30 on Sunday 4th May 2009 and I didn’t expect a response until this morning. However, checking my email, I found that Gerald Howarth MP responded at 23:34. His words are:
Dear Mr Ross
Thanks for your email about the Tumbledown Dick. Although I was not a patron, I am very conscious it commanded a niche position in the entertainment available in Farnborough and I have been concerned about its closure and the future of an historic local landmark.
I shall forward your concerns to the Chief Executive of Rushmoor, Andrew Lloyd, and also ask my secretary, Caroline, to contact the MD of The Spirit Group. If you have their details and could let us have those, that would ease the task.
Thanks very much for getting in touch; I’ll keep you posted as to how we get on, and I’m sure my colleagues on the Council, David Clifford and Gareth Lyon, will also let us both know if they have information to which I am not currently party.
Gerald Howarth MP
That is both a swift and positive response.
So, the ball is in their court, I shall keep you posted.
UPDATE: Wednesday 6th May 2009 9:27 pm
I received an email from Councillor David Clifford on Tuesday 5th May 2009 at 9:49am
Dear Mr Ross
Thank you for the email.
I have spoken to the Farnborough Civic Society about this building and the Council who are both getting back to me with updates which I will pass on.
I have noticed some external cleaning taking place last week, but am not sure who was responsible for this.
This is an important Farnborough building from an historical perspective and I can assure you that we ward councillors and many others are keen to preserve it. I personally believe it is not the best music venue, and would like to see a purpose built live music venue in the town. Opinion is split on this. But any live music venue is much better than none!! And I enjoy live music.
As soon as I have further information I will be in touch.
It was good to hear from David Clifford, one of the councillors for Empress Ward in Farnborough in which The Tumbledown Dick is situated. I repsonded after getting home from work, picking up on the fact that Councillor Clifford personally doesn’t think that The Tumbledown Dick is ideal for a venue…
Tuesday 5th May 2009 8:18pm
Dear Councillor Clifford,
I’m delighted to hear from you and thank you for your time. I hope this can be the beginning of a more transparent & positive chapter in the tale of this much-neglected Farnborough pub.
I look forward to seeing the updates from the Farnborough Society and Rushmoor Borough Council as this will take the patrons and other concerned residents of Farnborough “out of the dark” with regards to future of The Tumbledown Dick.
The tidying of the pub car park was a welcome move last week, although the installation of the bollards was certainly unexpected and further information would be of interest.
Personally I believe that The Tumbledown Dick does need to be reinstated as a music venue and I am just one of so many people of that opinion although it would be good to also know about any ideas of a purpose-built venue for Farnborough.
There are, however, a number of considerations here such as the simple fact that the Tumbledown Dick is already there and simply needs reinvestment in order to attain a new found glory. A purpose-built music venue would be wasteful if there were just a 250 person capacity venue, as I believe the Tumbledown previously was, and if the new venue were to be of a greater capacity then the smaller gigs such as the Battle of the Bands might not work so well. Not to mention the time that has already passed in waiting for the return of The Tumbledown Dick and the potential downtime in waiting for the location of a new site, the planning, the construction etc. That could be years away and people are impatient after 15 months of zero activity and zero information.
Then there is the question of what would The Tumbledown become if it were not to exist as a music venue? If variety is the spice of life then why change the pub from the unique place it has been to something more bland? With the number of pubs closing in the last few years it would be a travesty to turn The Tumbledown into one of those characterless and charmless pubs that are a feature of the generic style of town planning these days. Farnborough is a unique town and to keep the distinctive character in the Tumbledown Dick pub would add to the town not detract from it. I think it is accepted that TTD would have to be a reformed character but at least it would still be a character.
So the simple option is to focus on restoring The Tumbledown so that those people who have lost a lot, and in some cases all, of their social life in Farnborough as a result of the closure can return to normality. There are over a thousand people kicking their heels whilst the pub remains closed.
Ignoring the needs and wishes of the former patrons would be distinctly prejudicial and the future of TTD needs to be a bold decision by Rushmoor Council and whoever owns the pub, whether it be The Spirit Goup or any new owner, to proactively involve the relevant members of the community in the say of what they wish the pub to become because, after all, we are all stakeholders.
I look forward to being kept abreast of developments with The Tumbledown Dick and to the greater involvement of the loyal patrons.
Paul Mackenzie Ross
That’s the story so far in terms of the written communication. I have had another short email from Gerald Howarth, MP, asking for the contact details of the elusive owners The Spirit Group and I passed those on to his secretary, Caroline Ready, who has promised to keep me informed once she has had contact with the MD of The Spirit Group. I’m expecting contact now from Councillor Clifford and from Caroline Ready or somebody from The Spirit Group and, once again, I will keep you all informed of any further developments.
UPDATE: Friday 8th May 2009 2:47 am
I received the following email from councillor Clifford at 12:38pm on Thursday 7th May
Dear Mr Mackenzie Ross
We are now able to give you a further update on action being taken to tackle this issue.
The Council have approached the freeholder to establish their current position and whether they are seeking to terminate the lease or take other action to take control of the site.
We have set up a group coordinated by John Edwards the Director for Environment Services to identify and review all options to tackle the issue. Environmental Health had already served a notice to tidy up the site and secure the outbuildings but we now need to get a long term solution.
We suspect that Spirit Inns may well intend carrying out the necessary works to re-open the pub and we will do all we can to bring this forward.
The building is not listed but is a Hampshire Treasure and an important part of Farnborough’s history and heritage and we have a duty to do all we can to protect it.
Finally, please be assured the ward councillors are keeping a close eye on this site, and we are aware that our MP Gerald Howarth is also dealing
directly with the owners.
Re-opening this building does not necessarily mean the live music venue will re-open, and I am discussing this with fellow ward councillors and others like the Farnborough Society as to how best to achieve this.
I hope this at least brings you up to date and makes you aware of the action being taken.
So, after 15 months of watching, waiting, attempting to communicate with individual Councillors and the owners of The Tumbledown Dick and generally being kept in the dark there seems to be a sudden flurry of activity.
Welcoming the response I had a burning question regarding Councillor Clifford’s email and I responded at 4:23 on Friday 8th May:
Dear Councillor Clifford,
Thank you so much for the update. I really appreciate your time, your attention to this matter and for the new free flow of information. It is good to see that the issue of The Tumbledown Dick is being dealt with again and most encouraging to see that it appears that the re-opening of the pub does seem to be a high priority.
Regarding the following statement, I have a question:
“Re-opening this building does not necessarily mean the live music venue will re-open, and I am discussing this with fellow ward councillors and others like the Farnborough Society as to how best to achieve this.”
I am very keen to understand what would qualify an achievement and would welcome an explanation of exactly what the perfect outcome might be. Bearing in mind that the re-opening of the pub with the reinstatement of the music venue would be the best achievement in the eyes of the community, the electorate and those who have waited so patiently for a positive outcome, I do appreciate that there may be an alternative view and would like to understand why and who might benefit from it. I’d be delighted if you could make your position as elected councillor and representative of the residents of Farnborough clear on this particular point.
Also, I would like to understand how the loyal patrons of The Tumbledown Dick are to be included in the democratic decision-making process please. Correct me if I am wrong, but the mention of fellow ward councillors and “others” like the Farnborough Society does not seem to involve the near one thousand and three hundred signatories of the petition to “save the Tumbledown venue”. The live music venue was a unique heart of the community in Farnborough and it would be disappointing to see those people, to whom this pub is a primary concern, seemingly marginalised regarding the future of the establishment.
I look forward to your response, Councillor Clifford,
Paul Mackenzie Ross
Now that the ball is rolling I expect a swift reply from Councillor David Clifford on exactly the same day that the Farnborough News & Mail goes to press with a story regarding The Tumbledown Dick.
“Campaign to reopen town pub” – is the headline on this morning’s Farnborough News.
Councillor Clifford has responded to yesterday’s email, clarifying not just the single point that stood out more than anything else but he also elaborated on a number of points… 10 of them in fact. That was more than I bargained for but certainly welcome in getting a full picture of where he stands in this scenario.
Dear Mr Mackenzie Ross
I am sorry if I was not clear.
The key points are as follows:
1. The Council has power to make the owners keep the site tidy and safe. It also has power to define the use for which the premises can be used.
2. The Council, Councillors and MP have no power to force the owners to re-open it as a live music venue. This building has permission to do so, but the final decision is one for the owners. They may decide to have live music there, they may not. The frank answer is we do not know just now.
3. There is huge support for live music to return to The Tumble Down Dick. If it returns I will be happy.
4. There is also support for a large community facility that could hold large public events such as theatre and live music, which is something the Farnborough Society has discussed.
5. The above two items are not mutually exclusive, but many residents (in my meetings with residents and local community groups) simply want to see the building protected and put back to good use. However, I have heard a minority suggest we demolish it, and consider it an eyesore. I do not agree with this last sentiment.
6. Many interested in local history, are more interested in the historic significance of the building than its recent music celebrity, and would be devastated if the building were lost through neglect. It is an important local building in its own right.
7. We need to be clear not to confuse democratic process with commercial process. What the owners do is commercial process. We all can lobby, write to, plead and beg to – but what they do is not democratic, it is commercial.
8. The supporters of TTDD are not at all sidelined in the democratic process. Having worked abroad under a Dictatorship, I appreciate more than many that TTDD supporters are very much engaged. Supporters are and continue to have dialogue with their local elected representatives, raise and present petitions, write to a free press and can object to or support changes in planning permissions etc. But democracy cannot force an owner to provide music if they do not want to. BUT – this is academic – as currently we do not know what the owners intentions are. I simply added this as a ‘health warning’. I am sure we will soon find out.
9. When I mentioned ‘achieve’ I was referring to a ‘public’ venue for concerts and other productions. Regardless of what the owners of TTDD decide to do. I think Farnborough deserves this. Supporting one does not exclude support for the other. The point I thought I was making was that Farnborough deserves at least one live music venue.
10. All your elected representatives are working hard to ensure this building is not neglected and put back into use. Some of us would like to see live music back there too, some of us do not mind what happens so long as the building is not neglected, and it is put to good use. And I think you cannot disagree that that is very representative of the community. This is also very much the view we have received from our regular meetings with local residents, and canvassing on the doorstep.
Do I want to see the building cleaned up, protected, preserved and brought back into use? – Yes.
Would I be happy to see live music back there? – Yes.
I hope this leaves no confusion as to where I stand on this issue. If my fellow ward councillors or MP strongly disagree with me I am sure they will email.
In the meantime, I will be following this up with all involved as per usual.
You’ve got to hand it to Councillor David Clifford, THAT is an excellent response and well-deserving of merit. All we have to do now is ensure that the council are onside in trying to make sure that the Tumbledown is restored as both a better pub and a music venue. If The Tumbledown Dick is too small for a community arts centre then so be it – keep it as a rock/indie/alternative venue and let’s have a purpose-built venue elsewhere in the town. We’ve never had arts & theatre so a year or two more of waiting in that department will not be out of order. Restoring the The Tumbledown Dick to its “former glory”, however, is vital.