‘Give us a chance’: Bars’ plea to No 10 ahead of potentially desolate December

Ella Williams and James Wingfield (inset) owners of Frank's Bar have announced they will be launchin

Ella Williams and James Wingfield (inset) owners of Frank's Bar have announced they will be launching a one-off takeaway event. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Independent bars across the county have warned their future is teetering on a knife edge with droves set to close should they not reopen for Christmas.

Bond in Norwich, on Tombland. Photo: Google

Bond in Norwich, on Tombland. Photo: Google - Credit: Archant

Independent bars across the county have warned their future is teetering on a knife edge with droves set to close should they not reopen for Christmas.

With the government set to outline a plan for December reopening next week publicans have implored Westminster for the chance to open their doors as well as more financial aid.

The news comes after Gonzo’s Tearoom – one of Norwich’s best-known independent bars – filed for liquidation earlier this week.

And many more could be set to go, according to Glen Sarabi who manages a host of sites across the city centre.

Jane Edrupt, of the Hop In in North Walsham, serving at the hatch. Photo: Norwich and District CAMRA

Jane Edrupt, of the Hop In in North Walsham, serving at the hatch. Photo: Norwich and District CAMRA - Credit: Archant

Mr Sarabi, who runs Bond in Tombland as well as Truth and Fetch in Prince of Wales Road, said it was getting more difficult to turn a profit in hospitality – even before the pandemic.

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“The competition is very tough, you constantly have to think about how you can offer a different experience and get people to come through your doors. It was always difficult – even before the pandemic,” he said.

“Our key trading windows were also getting tighter, and Christmas is a massive one because of parties and people meeting up when they might not otherwise. If we don’t have that I think we’ll see a lot of businesses shutting across Norwich and beyond.”

Our Town - North Walsham. The Hop In, one of the new businesses in town. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Hop-In pub in North Walsham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

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He added that the £3,000 in government support is an “insult” to business owners.

“The money doesn’t cover the bill for the milk let alone anything else – we need more aid. The government also needs to be realistic about Christmas, because people will likely be meeting up whether the bars are open or not. At least if we’re open it’s in a controlled, virus-secure environment instead of people piling into each other’s houses.”

Andrea Briers, the Campaign for Real Ale’s regional director for East Anglia, added: “Bars and pubs just want to be given a chance to open in December, “We can’t put an estimate on how many businesses we might lose if they’re not allowed to open – we thought we would lose more than we did after the first lockdown so that may bode for the second to go better than anticipated. We know that many businesses are struggling though and more financial aid would definitely be welcomed and needed.”

She agreed that the curfew had potentially not been as effective as had been hoped. “I don’t know how sensible it was to have a lot of people leaving pubs and bars at the same time. I’m based in King’s Lynn and know it wasn’t too bad here, but the situation has been different in other areas. The other thing to consider is that this is a huge loss of revenue for bars.”

James Wingfield and Ella Williams at Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

James Wingfield and Ella Williams at Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

At Frank’s Bar in the Norwich Lanes owners James Wingfield and Ella Williams have decided to open up revenue streams by launching an online shop selling merchandise, cocktail kits and homemade preserves.

Mr Wingfield said: “I would love to say I think we’ll all get through this but it’s a really, really tough time to be in hospitality. I wouldn’t want to put an estimate on how many places may close but people are really struggling.

“More financial aid would of course be a massive help, and I’d also like to see the 10pm curfew lifted. I think we haven’t seen much evidence for how effective it is – though of course I’m happy to be proved wrong on that.”

On restrictions around households mixing he said such restrictions were less of a problem: “We’re a small place so our customers tended to be just from one household anyway. I think to distance between households would require a lot of space which people know we don’t have, so it hasn’t been an issue really.”

Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Frank's Bar in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

For Jane Edrupt and Nigel Davies who own micro-pub the Hop In at North Walsham, any financial support at all would be welcome.

The pair, who also have jobs as civil servants, have not been eligible for any grants because it does not make up the larger proportion of their income.

Ms Edrupt said: “There are so many hoops to jump through and unfortunately we haven’t qualified for any of them. Luckily for us we’re not dependent on the pub as our main source of income and we’re just trying to keep it in the green.

“There will be a lot of people looking at their businesses though and wondering if it’s worth carrying on if they’re losing money on it. I think the really specialised hospitality businesses who sell rarer ales will be the ones who come out of this the best – I suspect everyone else will be having some very tough conversations.”

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