‘We won’t open in 2020’ - landlords fear washout for pub industry
PUBLISHED: 08:48 02 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:42 02 May 2020
Norfolk’s pub landlords fear 2020 could be a complete write-off for the industry, as they prepare for revised rules on social distancing to be revealed.
Almost six weeks after the UK went into lockdown, prime minister Boris Johnson has promised to announce plans for the easing of restrictions in the coming days.
High on the list of questions is what that will mean for pubs, many of which face uncertain futures following an unprecedented period of closure.
Pub chain JD Wetherspoon says it intends to reopen its bars and hotels in June, hoping to benefit from having typically larger premises if social distancing measures remain in place.
But how feasible is such a move for Norfolk’s hundreds of independent watering holes? And do landlords actually think they will be permitted to reopen anytime soon?
Paul Sandford, landlord at The Railway Tavern in Dereham, believes the prospect of opening again in 2020 is unlikely and has doubts over the suitability of social distancing.
“I can’t see pubs reopening before the end of the year,” he said “I don’t see how social distancing would work - we rely on a steady stream Monday to Thursday and being packed from Friday to Sunday.
“If we say only 50 people can come in, you might as well not open your doors because it won’t be the same.”
Mr Sandford also questioned whether punters will want to return to their favourite haunts once restrictions are lifted, a take Samantha Taylor of The London Tavern, Attleborough, agrees with.
“I wonder what people’s confidence is going to be like,” added Mrs Taylor. “Are they actually going to be raring to get back to the pub?
“We’ve never been in a situation like this before and I don’t think things will return to normal for a long time.
“At best I think we might reopen just before Christmas, but with social distancing restrictions in place.”
As expected, pub beer sales across the nation have declined significantly since the coronavirus crisis began, collapsing by 40pc in March compared to the same period in 2019.
Mr Johnson first advised the public to avoid pubs on March 16, before ordering them to close four days later.
The British Beer and Pub Association says the “cliff-edge impact” has been “devastating” for the sector, asserting that 10,000 pubs have not been offered government support due to having a rateable value above the threshold of £51,000.
Paul Grothier, landlord at the Cross Keys in Dilham, near Stalham, fears for the remainder of this year’s trade, even if pubs do reopen soon.
“I think we’re looking at mid or end of summer to reopen, but my trade has gone this year, anyway,” he said. “How many people are going to want to come into a pub after all this?” Instead, Mr Grothier’s main concern is ensuring staff and customers remain in good health, insisting pubs will be “hothouses for infection”.
“There’s a lot of rubbish on social media saying they could reopen in four weeks,” he added. “I would rather everybody stay healthy - it’s only a pub and I don’t want to put my staff at risk.”
While some publicans think opening over the next few months is an ambitious target, Nick Skerritt, owner of the King William IV at Sedgeford, near Heacham, is another touting the prospect of a summer return.
Despite hoping to reopen on July 1, he admitted being “sceptical” in light of the government’s latest warnings.
“When we do open it will have to be a different working model to before,” said Mr Skerritt. “I’m expecting half the staff and half the customers I’m used to. People aren’t going to be standing two metres apart at the bar having a chat over a drink.”
Pat Palmer, who runs The Hare Arms - a Greene King pub - in Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market, says the establishment’s status as a bigger pub has resulted in lingering uncertainty.
“We’re taking each day as it comes,” said Mr Palmer. “A lot of pubs don’t qualify for grants that are available and we’re one of those. The government is doing a tremendous job, but to put a cap on larger pubs isn’t fair.
“I don’t know what will happen. We’re trying to keep our chins up but things look bleak.”
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