Landlords fear ‘disaster’ summer if pubs stay closed for months
PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:03 23 April 2020
Pubs in Norfolk are bracing themselves for an extended lockdown and considering future social distancing measures but, for some, a summer without trade could spell disaster.
It comes as government minister Michael Gove warned on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show over the weekend that pubs and restaurants would be”among the last” to see restrictions lifted, leading to speculation many may not be open before Christmas.
For Mark White, landlord of the Fat Cat Brewery Tap, a summer without trade would be “disastrous” for the pub industry.
He added: “It would be a disaster for brewing if we miss out on the summer months as it gets quieter in autumn and is busy for two weeks around Christmas then becomes quiet again from January.
“I imagine, as we were one of the first industries to be closed, we will be the last to reopen.”
Measures to abide by social distancing rules have been discussed at the Lawson Road pub, including spacing tables two metres apart and reducing the number of stalls.
But Mr White said running the business in a limited capacity could have a knock-on effect on employment.
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Mr White said: “It is a different ball game. It is completely up in the air and everything is based on hope. We can’t rush it and I understand why these measures are in place as there are thousands of people dying.”
Taking a day-to-day view has been the approach of Trowse-based Redwell Brewing, which has an online store, to managing the pandemic.
When it comes to reopening, even on a restricted basis, one of the directors, John Hughes, said he was unsure how social distancing could be enforced.
He added: “I think opening will have to be all or nothing. I don’t see how you can encourage social distancing in a pub and club environment. People gravitate towards each other and it’s hard to change people’s habits.”
As for the future, Mr Hughes said the main aim was to come out on the other side.
He said: “It has been challenging as we have been the new owners since January. We hope we get a natural bounce when people are allowed to go out again. But it’s important to have perspective.”
Reopening at Christmas would force landlord Kieran Bullen to leave The White Hart in Wymondham, which he has run for a year.
The rent on the pub is currently being deferred, which would amount to a significant sum by the end of the year.
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Mr Bullen said: “With that much debt reopening would not be worthwhile. I’ve never been in debt in my life and at the moment the business is accruing debt which I don’t like.”
Even if pubs can open before then, Mr Bullen does not anticipate the industry will bounce back to how it was before.
He added: “Best case scenario is we lose 10pc in trade but more realistically it will be 50pc.”
The next two years for Matthew Colchester, of Colchester Inns, which runs five pubs in Norfolk, will be a fight.
He said: “I’m under no illusion it will be a battle. But I’m prepared for it. Whether everyone will survive I don’t know.”
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Speaking about The Recruiting Sergeant near Coltishall, which will begin a takeaway service this weekend, he said he will do whatever it takes to make it work.
Mr Colchester added: “We are hoping it will be the tail end of summer with restricted numbers and use of garden – but we will follow the guidelines.
“If it is until Christmas it will have a huge impact but we’re taking each day as it comes. I’m not moaning as it is a national emergency and we will do whatever we can.”
Rose Hanison, owner of The Black Horse on Earlham Road, has started to consider social distancing measures but said until the restrictions are known firm plans cannot be made.
She said: “Opening with restrictions creates a moral question mark as to whether you should be open. It’s a no man’s land and everyone, not just the pub industry, is frustrated. But the most important thing is to get the virus sorted.”
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