A New Era For The Dyke

The Dyke pub has been a staple visit for locals, tourists and ramblers for decades, with it’s most recent years being under the watchful eye of owner Martin Webb.  Offering traditional pub values, great food and unparalleled views, it’s not hard to see why the community rallied together in support when the firm favourite was in jeopardy of closure.  Absolute met up with Martin Webb to find out just what happened, what’s happening now and what the future holds for The Dyke.

What initially caused you to unfortunately have to close the Dyke Pub?

After running the pub for over 7 years we finally decided to close when it had been loosing money for a while. It’s was a very big pub and the running costs were huge – staffing, business rates, heating had all increased significantly and we were having trouble making the pub busy outside of the peak weekend opening times. The problem with a very big pub is that if it isn’t busy, there can be a lack of ‘atmosphere’ and people choose to go elsewhere.  We tried everything we could to stimulate the business and only last spring we invested considerably in a refit to try and boost trade. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it pay so the hard decision was taken to close and explore alternative uses for the building.

Having closed down, what were the plans for the premises moving forward?

We originally planned to operate the ground floor as a shop – it’s a big light space and it’s proved perfect for our antique business, Emporium. The shop has taken off really well and we have lots of people travelling from all over the city to come and take a look and browse our stock.

Your current plans appear very different.  What was it that sparked the change?

We were really surprised by the level of feeling for the Dyke Pub. It’s clear that people really missed the pub and wanted to see it return. We read all the different opinions posted on the ‘Save the Dyke’ Facebook page and decided to change our plans to take these community points of view into account. I’m from a family with at least six generations in Brighton, so we wanted to do the right thing for the city and come up with an alternative plan that would listen to the views of the community.

To have such an outcry from the community must have been very flattering. Why do you think there is such compassion for the Dyke Pub?

It was flattering in the sense that we must have been running the pub in a manner that people liked if its closure was so upsetting. We always tried to make the Dyke a pub that catered to as many different elements of the community as possible. We tried to make it family friendly as well as being more grown up in the evenings. The problem we always had was that although plenty of individuals liked the pub, not enough of them came in at any one time to make it work as a business.

Having listened to your public, you have since submitted plans for a whole new multipurpose venture within the property. Please can you tell us about this?

We’re really excited about our revised plans for the Dyke site! The most important aspect is that the pub will be reopening in half of the ground floor. We think that by opening a smaller pub we can make it more atmospheric, more sustainable as a result it will be there for the long term. Although it will be half the original size, it will still be as big, or bigger than most other pubs in the area. The most important thing is that it will be a ‘real’ pub with ales, craft beers and lovely food. As for the other half of the ground floor, we’ll continue to operate our antiques shop Emporium. We think the new pub and the shop for complement each other really well.

How was the response from the public towards these exciting new plans?

Everyone we’ve spoken to thinks it’s a great idea and a realsitic compromise. We think that we’ve come up with a pragmatic middle way and the feedback we’ve had is that people appreciate this. Of course, there are some people who’d like the whole pub to reopen, but be don’t see that as a financial possibility.  People that have spoken to us are just looking forward to getting a great place back to meet, eat and drink at.

You mention paying off your business mortgage. How will this be possible?

We’re planning on building 2 new flats in the roof space above the old pub. It’s huge up there and perfect for a loft conversion. By using this dead space and selling the flats, we can pay off our mortgage and then run the pub debt free.

What are the biggest hurdles you have had to climb throughout the process?

We’re currently only half way through the process of the getting the pub reopened. We’ve recently applied for the necessary planning permission and if we get that, then we’ll start on the actual construction phase. We really hope that people will rally around our planning application – if we don’tget it then the ground floor will remain as a shop, disappointing lots of our old regulars. Fingers crossed for a positive result!

You have clearly paid a lot of attention to the feedback you’ve received from the locals and have created a sympathetic plan moving forward. To what extent do you feel the local council have assisted you and supported you in those decisions?

We’ve not had a lot of interaction with the local council, but local MP Caroline Lucas has been actively involved in trying to find a solution and sent a representative to meet with us. Local Councillor Geoffrey Theobald has also kindly offered his time to help arrange meetings between the community groups and ourselves. Generally everyone has been very helpful – especially when they’ve realised that we’re trying to work towards a working solution for this building that addresses the needs of the community and the financial pressures of the business. No solution is ever going to be perfect and keep everyone happy, but on this occasion we think we’ve got as close as we can get.

The Absolute team cannot wait to experience the new Dyke Pub and Shop! What can we expect?

We think people are going to love the new Dyke Pub. It’s all going to be about great food, drink and service. The place is going to be fully refurbished and will be a fantastic destination to take the family or socialise with friends. We’re really excited and can’t wait to get the green light to crack on with this exciting new chapter in the history of the Dyke Pub!

QUOTES

“I think it’s good news that the Dyke Pub has been given a life-line and a second chance to serve the local community. While many pub businesses are struggling to survive, this is a great example of the local community working with the building’s owners to come up with a practical solution that ensures the survival of a pub at the site. Pub’s need to reinvent themselves in order to thrive in modern environment and this example show’s that closure doesn’t have to be the only option.”

Peter Kyle MP

“Martin Webb has always been a prolific businessman. If the Dyke Pub is to survive for generations to come, he is the best hope for its long term welfare. Secondly Martin Webb over many years have given back very generously to charities within Brighton and Hove. Martin is a great asset to the City, and continues to make a great impact.”

Paul Young, CEO Off The Fence