Cardiff works to change its reputation as a boozy capital

Wales is renowned for its drinking culture. Now authorities and organisations in Cardiff are taking action to form a better relationship with booze 

Colourful mocktails representing a change in Wales drinking culture
Many bars in Cardiff offer a variety of tasty mocktails. Image credit: Eve Davies

It’s a Sunday morning, you roll out of bed just before midday, still in last night’s outfit. You catch your reflection in the mirror. Mascara smudges down your cheek. Remains of red lipstick cling to the edges of your lips. Your hair is matted. Your head pounds and your mouth is dry. The night before you went out for one drink with friends to catch up after a busy week. One pint turned into two. Two pints turned into shots and before you knew it you were on the dance floor, followed by a tray of cheesy chips in Chippy Lane at 2am. 

You tell yourself next weekend will be a weekend in. But by the time Friday rolls around again, there’s nothing you want more than a bev with your mates. Sound like a familiar cycle? You’re not alone in Cardiff.

Booze in Wales

Over the past two decades, Cardiff has developed a reputation as a party-hard, boozy city, often appearing high on the UK ‘best night out’ survey lists. A Drink Well survey found Cardiff to be the fourth booziest city in the UK, behind Bristol, London, and Manchester.

The lively, often chaotic, night-time economy been good for business in the Welsh capital over the years. But now health-conscious individuals and concerned local authorities are working to change that reputation with legislation and alternative sober social events. 

Public Health Wales recommends drinking no more than 14 units a week spread evenly over three or more days. Yet, according to them, 45% of men and 34% of women report drinking above the recommended guidelines. In comparison, research shows 37% of men and 19% of women in England drink above guidelines.

Most people tend to drink excessively at weekend social situations. Consuming over the guidelines in binge drinking episodes can lead to a host of chronic diseases and mental health issues including high blood pressure, stroke, heart and liver disease, depression and anxiety. 

How are people in Cardiff changing their social plans?

Pontcanna’s Love Live Light Healing Club has launched a Friday night social run club, pledging “nature is the new nightclub”. Hosted by Love Live Light in collaboration with fitness trainer Lauren Green and Drink Hallett’s 0% spirits, this club involves a group 5K run followed by the chance to socialise over a non-alcoholic beverage.  

The club provides an alcohol-free space for seasoned runners and beginners to meet like-minded people. It is a social opportunity that nurtures the body rather than abuses it. 

Group of smiling people in run kit holding glow sticks as they change Wales drinking culture
Runners at Love Live Light Healing Club ready to take on their weekly Friday night 5K. Image credit: Jessie Hallett

Social media manager Jessie Hallett, who also founded the run club’s sponsor Drink Hallett’s, has been sober for one year after having a troubled relationship with alcohol, which she used to use to escape emotions brought by anxiety and depression.   

She said: “I lived a life of burning the candle at both ends for pretty much a decade. I loved partying, socialising, but it’s what came after that was the problem. My hangovers were awful, and the hangxiety was even worse.” Fed up of “waking up in fear”, Hallett decided it was time to cut the booze.

It’s empowering to not need ‘Dutch courage’

Jessie Hallett

“Every part of my life has improved since going sober,” Hallett said. Her physical and mental health has benefitted, as have her business and relationships. “I’m far more productive and creative, and it feels like I’ve gained an extra two days in the week now I’m not hungover in bed with a face full of Maccies.” 

It is well known that the Welsh love a drink. Does anything say Welsh culture more than a pint of lager and an under-the-influence rendition of Max Boyce after a rugby game? 

Hallett agrees that there is a huge drinking culture in Wales. However, she stresses how empowering it is to realise alcohol doesn’t need to be involved in every social situation. She explains: “If you want to see some friend or go on a date, it is highly likely you go for a drink. But it’s empowering to not need ‘Dutch courage’.”

Authorities catch on

The run club is not alone in its attempt to show people how to have fun and socialise without getting slashed. There are many sober socials happening among Cardiff University societies, including the CU Feminist society. There are also sober online communities like Sober Gals Wales, and Welsh authorities are working to help the capital build a better relationship with binge drinking. 

Cardiff Council Cumulative Impact Assessment 2020-23 sets out initiatives the council is supporting to create a safe nightlife scene. Cardiff Community Alcohol Partnership (CAP) is place to improve the population’s relationship with alcohol and reduce the negative effects of consumption.

The partnership comprises local stakeholders including retailers, local authorities, police, neighbourhood groups and health providers. They work together with the shared interest of preventing underage drinking and encouraging responsible drinking among young adults.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: CAP has “worked so hard to reduce anti-social behaviour, alcohol-related violence and health risks from high levels of intoxication” among young people in Cardiff.

So next time you’re craving that Friday drink with your mates, consider what else you could d with your evening that wouldn’t cause a horrific headache the following day. A coffee and walk, cooking a nice meal, or joining a new club like the Friday run club are all great options. Remember, social is not synonymous with alcohol. 

How can you be social while avoiding alcohol? Find out below