This is how Dry January impacts the Leeds pub scene

As the New Year begins, many people decide it’s time to start living a healthier lifestyle and often alcohol is the first thing to go.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 20:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 05:31 am
Scott Westlake, landlord of the Myrtle Tavern in Meanwood

The month-long Dry January drive, which involves not drinking for four weeks, is among the most popular resolutions at the turn of the year. It stipulates that no alcohol can touch the lips until February 1 - so it’s not surprising that many abstainers also stay away from the temptation of the pub.But bar bosses and local landlords from across Leeds have hit back at the emergence of the annual trends, and today warned that Dry January is “a fad” that could seriously damage the city’s pub trade.Scott Westlake, landlord of the Myrtle Tavern in Meanwood, said his pub has experienced his best January on record - after “refusing” to let Dry January stand in their way.The 32-year-old said: “In the past Dry January has been concerning and we’ve taken a hit but this year we’ve refused to let it be a problem.“It’s a fad. I’ve seen first hand how less and less people take part in it every year and even the ones that do are never big drinkers anyway - it’s all about the bragging rights.“What’s the point in people starving themselves of alcohol for a whole month only to get completely wasted come February? I’d be glad if the whole thing disappeared altogether.”Dry January is an annual movement that sees millions of people give up alcohol for the month of January every year. It was first launched in 2012, by the charity Alcohol Change UK, and has been backed by Public Health England.In Leeds, Mr Westlake and his staff have this year been pushing ‘Tryanuary’, in a bid to entice people into the pub.The nationwide Tryanuary campaign originally started in 2015, as a way to get people to try new types of ales and lagers.It has since evolved into an initiative to support the beer industry.Mike Hampshire, former chairman of Leeds branch of Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), who now runs his own business helping the local beer industry, is a national campaign coordinator for the Tryanuary scheme.The 36-year-old, from Hunslet, said: “People go into New Year with all these new resolutions to join a gym, loose weight and do Dry January but they don’t realise that it damages the pub trade in their area. It’s already a tough month for the beer industry but Tryanuary helps to get people back into pubs and raise awareness about how tough it can be when people do Dry January.“We’re not encouraging people to drink more, but to drink better. It doesn’t mean getting drunk, just nipping for a pint will help local businesses survive.“People who are doing Dry January shouldn’t avoid pubs - they can go and have a soft drink, some food or do a pub quiz. Without our support it’s likely the pubs and bars in Leeds will face closure.”Richard Coldwell, committee member for the CAMRA’s Leeds branch, said he believes that although Dry January may not impact the city centre bars, it has a huge effect on local pubs who may already be feeling the pinch this month.“Dry January is a well meant idea that comes up short and it really doesn’t do our local pubs justice,” said Mr Coldwell, 55, from Wetherby.“Most people agree that giving up drinking for a month and then going back to what you did in December is a bad idea so why not carry on as normal?“Pubs takes a bit of a hit in January anyway because everyone is spent up after Christmas, so we should be supporting our local pubs more than ever. “The pub is the hub of our communities, where people can go have a few sensible drinks and a chat a couple of days a week. So forget Dry January – let’s support our local pubs.”Back in Meanwood, Mr Westlake said that to beat the Dry January trend, landlords need to work hard to make sure it doesn’t impact on their pubs.“I know some pubs that have suffered because of Dry January but you’ve got to be on top of your game and push back against it,” he said.

“A lot of other landlords don’t bother trying something new because they resign themselves to thinking that January is a tough month – but no wonder people stay away if all the miserable landlord does is complain about how bad January is.”To make sure that Dry January didn’t ruin the pubs business this January, Mr Westlake and his staff begin to plan events and offers for the month back in November.They organised free bottles of prosecco with meals to meet tight January budgets, themed pub quizzes for those who may not want a drink and launched a new food menu to entice in the customers.Mr Westlake added: “We’ve had a great month despite Dry January because people have been excited to come in the pub. We’ve actually done better than some of our busier months in 2018.“Why should January be different from any other month? “If you have a drinking problem you should be addressing that all year-round not just in January.”

Scott Westlake, landlord of the Myrtle Tavern in Meanwood
Mike Hampshire is a national campaign coordinator for the Tryanuary scheme.

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Mike Hampshire is a national campaign coordinator for the Tryanuary scheme.