‘It’s cheaper to stay closed’: Pub owners’ bleak view on reopening

PUBLISHED: 06:40 20 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:55 20 June 2020

Dawn Hopkins, The Rose. Pic: Archant

Dawn Hopkins, The Rose. Pic: Archant

Pub owners across Norfolk voiced their fears that the industry may never recover from the coronavirus outbreak.

Tim Elwes and his family at the Saracen's Head in Wolterton. Pic: Saracen's HeadTim Elwes and his family at the Saracen's Head in Wolterton. Pic: Saracen's Head

Even though some are preparing to reopen on July 4, many consider the safety measures needed are too costly or will kill off trade.

And like so many other businesses, from hairdressing to hotels, the lack of information from Downing Street on exactly how they are expected to reopen is causing the most frustration. Currently pub owners don’t even know if they are only going to be allowed to reopen gardens and for those without much outdoor space, it’s a real worry as to how they’ll survive.

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It comes as this newspaper has launched a Love Local campaign in support of businesses trying to get back on their feet after lockdown.

Ian Stamp, CAMRA chairman. Pic: ArchantIan Stamp, CAMRA chairman. Pic: Archant

Chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Ian Stamp, said it was ‘desperate straits for the whole pub industry’. He called on the government to provide ongoing financial support otherwise many pubs may have to stay closed.

He said: “Out of 140 pubs in Norwich, there’ll be 10 left. Surely most people want to be able to go to a pub, to celebrate after work or at Christmas? But you might not be able to.”

His comments come as the Campaign for Pubs, part of the British Pub Confederation and a separate body from CAMRA, issued a 10 point plan for pubs to reopen. This included calling for clear guidance to be issued by Friday June 26 as well as relaxation of licensing restrictions, lowering VAT and business rates and a 12-month ban on changing a pub building into something else.

Mr Stamp said locally support for pubs had been good, with Norwich City Council aiding in potentially allowing pedestrianisation so pubs could utilise streets. But his view was bleak because of current social distancing measures, which would effectively make opening up a city pub difficult because of space issues. He also said people’s reason to go to a pub was to stand at a bar with friends and not sit at tables isolated from non household members.

The Saracen's Head, Wolterton. Pic: ArchantThe Saracen's Head, Wolterton. Pic: Archant

“If pubs can’t reopen they might never do and then they are going to be turned into shops, offices and we’ll never get them back,” he added.

Philip Cutter, landlord at the Murderers in Timber Hill, Norwich, said the costs of reopening were too great. He said he’s need to employ about seven-eight staff just to impose measures and even with social distancing reduced to 1m, he still couldn’t get enough people in to make it worth opening. “It’s cheaper to stay closed,” he said.

Dawn Hopkins, vice chairwoman of the campaign for Pubs, and a landlady at The Rose, Norwich, said pubs needed more time to reopen. Many have out of date beer awaiting collection from breweries currently making beer without knowing if pubs are even going to be able to reopen to use it.

“We need a definitive date and guidelines; do we need to be putting in perspex screens? Is just pubs with gardens that can open, so much is up in the air. Pubs have been closed since mid-March and most pubs and publicans have had no trade and no income, yet costs have continued. We need real action now to stop publicans being forced out of their pubs and to stop pubs being developed and converted.”

But not everyone was gloomy. Tim Elwes at the Saracen’s Head, Wolterton, north Norfolk, said he was planning to cash in on the fact his pub and restaurant was in the middle of the countryside. He added: “We’re one of the best socially distanced pubs in the whole of the country. You’ve got to be positive.” He said was hoping to reopen the pub and restaurant on July 4 but not the bed and breakfast rooms and had put in measures such as installing a marquee in the garden and a new pizza oven outside.

Paul Crossman, chairman of the Campaign for Pubs urged the government to ‘listen and act.’

“We need the government and others to really acknowledge and address very real threat currently facing thousands of much-loved community pubs up and down the country. We need urgent action to support and save pubs that have already incurred huge losses due to the Covid-19 crisis and that are still facing the dire prospect of hugely reduced trade going forward. We urge the government to listen and act and back the Campaign for Pubs 10 Points to Save Pubs. We also urge all who value pubs to join the Campaign for Pubs and to help us get the message to Whitehall that we need real action now in order to save the UK’s hugely important and beloved community locals.”

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