world : The pub crawl dividing residents and revellers

Monday 1 July 2024 08:30 AM

Nafeza 2 world - Image caption,

The Otley Run has become popular among students, birthday parties and stag or hen dos

Steve Jones, David Spereall and Carla Fowler

BBC News

The Otley Run has turned the Leeds suburb of Headingley into a party destination for students, stag-dos and other groups wanting to pit their livers against the 19-stop pub crawl.

While some see it as a money spinner others have said its akin to night a out in Magaluf, with broken bottles and vomit a regular sight.

So, after J D Wetherspoon pub The Golden Beam said it was hoping to become the 20th watering hole on the list, the BBC spoke to residents and revellers about the infamous route and its impact on the neighbourhood.

What is the Otley Run?

The Otley Run is a 19-stop pub crawl along Otley Road in Leeds.

According to some, it was once the preserve of famers taking a tractor ride into Leeds on market day and stopping along the route for regular liquid refreshment.

By the 1960s the tradition had been adopted by students at the University of Leeds and fast became a rite of passage for those seeking an education in the city.

Originally comprising just 11 pubs, the traditional starting point was Woodies in Far Headingley, and ended at the Pig and Whistle, in the Merrion Centre, prior to its closure in 2003.

Over the years it has expanded to include a further eight venues spread along the two-and-a-half-mile route into the city centre.

"Runners" as they are know travel from across the country, with many donning fancy dress as they bid to have a drink in each establishment.

What do the landlords think?

The most recent venue to join is Arcadia Ale House, which previously marketed itself as a "safe haven" from the heavy drinking, but missed out on passing trade.

General manager John Allen said the pub changed its policy as "it's just not viable to watch all these people going by".

"The pub trade itself is dying," added the 45-year-old, who has spent his entire career in the hospitality sector.

"You need to do what you can to keep the pubs open. It's turned into a good thing, we are full on a Saturday from 2pm to 6 or 7pm."

Mr Allen said the brewery which owned the bar had considered selling it before the upturn in its fortunes.

There had been "one or two complaints" from local residents, he added, but overall "it seems to be working".

"We are stop number five so they are all well-behaved when they come here. They are a bit loud and vocal, but it's just because they are all having fun."

How does it impact on residents?

Gemma Drury
Image caption,

Gemma Drury said Otley Runners coming from outside of Leeds "didn't care about the area"

Gemma Drury, 40, who has lived in the Headingley area since 2003, said smashed bottles and vomit were regular sights on the route.

"It used to be quite a tame event but it's increased tenfold since before Covid," she said.

"I know plenty of people who've left and plenty of businesses who've left the area because it's ruined their Saturday footfall.

"It's the changing demographic. When it was just students doing it - they live here, they didn't want to get barred or get caught doing drugs in the street.

"The people coming from different cities don't care about the area, so they don't care if they get barred or if they get caught urinating the street."

Chris Barraclough
Image caption,

Chris Barraclough said no-one wanted to stop the Otley Run but that it "needs managing"

Chris Barraclough, from Child Friendly Leeds, suggested a registration scheme for crawlers or a code of conduct could improve the situation.

"We don't want to stop the Otley Run," she said. "But it needs to be managed because it needs to be safe.

"Headingley has always been a diverse and really fantastic place to live. It's just the influx at the weekends of Otley Runners, and they come from all over the country. It's not just students."

What about plans to add another venue?

About 30 people attended a meeting at the The Golden Beam last week to discuss the pub changing its licence to allow Otley Runners in.

Nigel Connor, Wetherspoons' legal director, said no final decision had been made on whether or not to submit a formal application but, given the issues with public urination and drunken behaviour in the area, Wetherspoons believed it could manage pub crawlers "better inside than outside on the streets".

He said that commercial interests were also part of the rationale for the idea, though insisted the views of the community would be taken on board.

Residents, however, were universally critical.

Sue Buckle, who has lived in Headingley for 60 years, said: "There's lots of evidence people come here because they regard it as a proper pub without Otley Runners.

"It is really, really distressing to see the state some of the Otley Runners get into.

"It's not that they're malicious, they're just so off their face they don't know what they're doing."

David Salinger
Image caption,

David Salinger said letting Otley Runners in could "overwhelm" The Golden Beam's current customer base

David Salinger, who has lived in the area since 1979, said: "It's a difficult situation. The Otley Run has got too large.

"(Allowing Otley Runners in) could overwhelm the present customers.

"There's also the issue of road safety, if they come across the road - and it's at a point in the road that cars are probably at their fastest if there's no congestion."

Labour councillor for the Headingley and Hyde Park ward, Jonathan Pryor, said: "I'm not against people having fun on the Otley Run, but sometimes Headingley on a Saturday is now an area that families avoid.

"There's a real debate about whether a pub of this capacity is going to exacerbate the problem or if it is going to offer somewhere that will put them out of the way."

And what of the revellers?

The university term might have ended, but there were plenty of groups of all ages taking part in the Otley Run when the BBC visited Headingley on Saturday.

Wrestlers, smurfs, convicts and a tin of beans were among the more colourful outfits on show.

One graduate from Bedale, dressed as a bumble bee, said he had done the crawl "a few times" since being a student.

Group of people in fancy dress doing the Otley Run
Image caption,

The popularity of the crawl has increased in recent years

Asked if he thought the Otley Run had got bigger since he started doing it, he said: "I don't think so. It's always the same. If you come at this time of the day it's always going to be busy, so people start early.

"The Original Oak is probably the highlight. It's got the best beer garden and lots of space and people have a few drinks down them by that point."

Another reveller said he had done the crawl "many times".

He said he would typically have 10 pints on the Otley Run, but added: "You space it throughout the day, so it's all good.

"You usually you start at Woodies [but] we always skip it, tactically, because it's extremely busy."

Group of people in fancy dress doing the Otley Run
Image caption,

The famous crawl is often completed, or attempted, in fancy dress

Are pub crawls safe?

NHS guidelines recommend people do not consume more than 14 units of alcohol a week, the equivalent of about six pints of beer (4%) of six 175ml glasses of wine.

It says there is no "safe" drinking level, describing consuming less than 14 units a week instead as "low-risk drinking".

It adds that regularly exceeding14 units per week over 10 to 20 years can lead to illnesses such as mouth cancer, throat cancer and breast cancer, strokes, heart and liver disease and brain damage. Excessive drinking can also impact on mental health.

Aside from the health concerns, efforts have been put in place to try and protect the neighbourhood and those living, working or visiting the area.

The Otley Road area has a Public Space Protection Order in place, meaning people can be fined £1,000 for offences such as littering and harassment.

And, in 2022 Labour councillor Neil Walshaw, who has since stepped down, said women were being harassed by drunken revellers in Headingley and Hyde Park, and the council announced a crackdown on behaviour.

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