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Waterhole Bar to be refurbished as alcohol sales drop

The Waterhole bar in the Students’ Union building will be refurbished into a social space with street food, coffee shop, microwaves and comfy furniture open to all students. 

The Waterhole bar has seen a long-term decline in alcohol sales, dropping 20% year on year for the past 4 years and has seen the bar become a loss-making venue. 

The bar has a large amount of competition right on its doorstep with 7 pubs, 6 clubs and 2 supermarkets selling alcohol on late licence within a 5-minute walk, and Gunwharf Quays’ restaurants and bars only 10-minutes away. Southsea’s Albert Road area has also become more popular for students offering easy access to restaurants, pubs, late night bars and live music.

Nationally a study also found young people drink less alcohol compared to older generations, with the proportion of under 24-year-olds who do not drink rising from 10% in 2002 to 22% in 2016. Union bars at other universities such as Abertay and Solent have also closed recently following declining interest from students. 

As a result, the University Executive Board has taken the difficult decision to stop subsidising the bar and reinvest funding into a refurbished social space and improvements to the wider student experience. 

The space will be reopened as a social space for Freshers Week, but the bar section will be closed. Refurbishment of the Waterhole will start later in the autumn and is due to be completed in December. 

In the meantime, the Students’ Union has started discussions with their partners about relocating the popular nights – Purple Wednesdays and Karaoke Fridays to another nearby venue. The Union will also support student sport clubs and societies who planned to use the Waterhole, to find alternative venues for their upcoming social events.  

Graham Galbraith, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “We recognise that student tastes have changed in recent years and most students who want to drink alcohol would prefer to do so at other city venues. Only a minority of students have been using the Waterhole bar and we’re aware that many avoid it. People were simply not using it enough and the bar has become financially unsustainable. In response, we believe redesigning and refurbishing that area, offering street food, coffee, microwaves and comfy furniture will help open it up for all to enjoy and help them feel part of a bigger student community.”

Students’ Union (SU) President, Helena Schofield, said: “Myself and the Sabbatical Officer team are sad to see the bar go but we understand that it’s not financially viable to keep the bar open. We’re excited to hear student ideas on what the new space should bring to the experience of students here in Portsmouth.

“I would encourage all students to share their ideas on what they would like to see in the space to help make sure that the student voice informs decision on its development. The University and the Students’ Union will update you on ways you can do this in September.” 

There are no redundancies as the bar only employed one full-time member of staff who left the University earlier this year, and many seasonal staff have found other casual roles across the University and elsewhere. 

Ideas can be sent to waterholeideas@port.ac.uk 

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