Landlady warns community pubs are being 'crucified' by new measures
- Credit: Brittany Woodman
When Alex Kerridge took over The Beehive pub in Eaton more than 12 years ago, she did not get off to an easy start.
It was spring 2008, and the country was due to enter a crippling recession that would see hundreds of thousands of businesses close.
"I remember thinking 'oh my god, what have I done' ," she said. "But I built the business up and worked so hard and, compared to this, it was a piece of cake."
'This', of course, is 2020 - a coronavirus pandemic which has seen Miss Kerridge, alongside her hospitality colleagues, weather two lockdowns, a 10pm curfew, radical changes to her business and a dramatic drop in trade.
"This is horrendous," she said. "People don't realise - you have to have a smile on your face all the time, you give so much. But everyone is struggling, emotionally. I am struggling mentally, with my nerves."
When it started, back in spring, it was hard to imagine what would come next.
"I remember sitting here watching Boris on the first time saying you must stay at home, sitting here on the sofa crying my eyes out," she said. "No-one had known anything like it.
"I feel the same now. If they review it on December 16 and we are in tier one we will be able to open, but it's like starting a business all over again. People have lost faith, and lost their routine."
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During the spring lockdown she kept busy, offering doorstep takeaways in a bid to keep in touch with regulars of the Leopold Road pub.
They took a cautious approach come Saturday, July 4, when pubs could first reopen, fearful that it would lead to a rush and strain on staff adapting to a new system, and instead opened the following Tuesday.
"It was absolutely dead the first week," she said, "it was horrible. I was really worrying.
"I spent a lot of money on floor signage, we had to put a one-way system in. I had to remove a tonne of furniture. We had a Perspex screen up at the bar.
"We coped quite well, but then of course they brought in the table service rule, which meant we had to then become waitresses as well as bar staff, which we weren't used to doing.
"We had to double our wage bill, with one person behind the bar and another going to the tables.
"We did a meet and greet on the front door, we had to make sure we took all their contact details. We had to make sure they were wearing a mask. It was just like being Covid police."
It was around mid-September time that they, and customers, began to settle into the new normal, despite reduced capacity and a 10pm curfew.
"We actually starting making a little bit of money," she said. "That's how hard things had been. It's hard work to earn money when you are just selling drinks, but we do it because it's a real community pub."
Then came the "bombshell" of the second lockdown, when the landlady, whose family have a history working in pubs, decided to shut down completely for the month.
She said: "It was absolutely devastating. [In spring] all the staff were furloughed, it was just me and I was so burnt out.
"[This time] I thought I'm so exhausted from the whole situation from day one back in March and I thought I need a break for myself. I need some time to regroup and get some rest."
Though Miss Kerridge had hoped for tier one, it was confirmed on Thursday that Norfolk, and the rest of East Anglia, would enter tier two.
Even if she began serving meals, she said limitations on numbers would still make business unviable.
"We are a drinks pub and we get a lot of single people that come in to meet their friends," she said.
"People don't come to my pub to eat, they come to meet their friends and other regulars. It's a second home to some people, and they couldn't come and have a meal every time."
With rent to pay and bills to consider, pubs - even those serving food - face a lean December, traditionally one of the busiest months of the year.
And Miss Kerridge said, with supermarkets allowed to open and sell alcohol with no limits, it has felt as though pubs, particularly community, drink-led ones, are becoming scapegoats.
"We just seem to be getting penalised, we are being crucified," she said. "Some people who don't go to pubs think that pubs are to blame for this. They imagine that pubs are places where people are getting drunk, crowding around each other and being lairy. That's not my pub - that's not most pubs."
For the next fortnight, Miss Kerridge is allowing customers to pick up bottled beer packages from the pub, and taking collections for a Christmas hamper appeal to keep busy.
And when asked how she felt about the next few months, she said: "It's like if you imagine you are in the middle of the ocean and trying to swim back to the beach and you can see the beach, and you are just not getting there.
"The current is not allowing you there. It's not a case of drowning, but it's really hard to swim to shore."