THEY used to be at the heart of every community across Southampton.

But dozens of city pubs have been forced to call last orders for the final time blaming reduced trade and competition from supermarkets.

Now new research has shown that half of Southampton’s remaining watering holes are at risk of closure by the end of next year.

The study, by insolvency trade body R3, revealed that 49 per cent of pubs across the city have been defined as being “at risk of failure” during the next 12 months.

It comes after several Southampton pubs including the Bulls Eye in Butts Road, Sholing, the Winning Post in Peartree Avenue, and The Woodman in Coxford Road, closed recently to be converted into convenience stores.

A total of ten pubs were closed in south Hampshire last year alone, according to figures from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

But landlords from across the city hit back at the study last night.

Stewart Cross, landlord at the Platform Tavern, which opened its own microbrewery in December last year, said: “Every pub has struggled lately with the smoking ban, the added duty on beer and supermarkets offering cheap deals – it’s hammering pubs.

“But you have to do something different to stay ahead of the field and keep customers coming in. You can’t just stand there and struggle otherwise you will end up closing.

“The microbrewery has definitely helped us. It’s not hugely profitable but it’s unique.”

Dawn Gentry, landlady at the Junction Inn, in St Denys, which reopened last month after being devastated by a fire, said that pubs shouldn’t just be a place for people to drink.

She added: “It’s not all about alcohol and it can’t just be about alcohol. All sorts of people come in here for different reasons – some need to borrow a stamp or need something photocopied, other people just want a chat.

“There’s definitely still a place for pubs. They are still a vital part of communities like ours.

But you only get out what you put in and we work like dogs here. If you don’t work hard, you’re not going to succeed.”

Nick Keitley, chairman of R3’s southern committee said: “The number of drinking establishments at risk in Southampton is a worry, particularly considering the recent boosts they would have seen thanks to the PSP Southampton Boat Show and Freshers’ Week.

“The recession has gone on far longer than could have been predicted and it is getting harder for people to find the money to spend on discretionary items.

“For many, going to the pub after work is being replaced by buying cheaper alcohol in the supermarkets, and the strain on pubs and bars is really showing.”

The study found that four out of ten pubs and bars in the south east are at risk of failure in the next 12 months.