In the wake of COVID-19, we must look after pubs
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BY MO METCALF-FISHER
Our pubs form part of the backbone of local communities up and down our country. We all have a favourite. The place we so eagerly went, to get in our first pint at 18. Perhaps the place you discovered your limit of what constituted sensible alcohol consumption, under the watchful eye of the landlord. The karaoke nights, the quizzes, the roaring fire and the modestly priced ham, egg and chips. Whatever your personal connection, the pub has a special place in the heart of every Brit.
In the countryside, pubs aren’t just a place to see off a swift half. They literally act as public houses and a place for so many to escape social isolation. In many villages across the UK, the pub can be the only community hub for miles around. Think of the person at the end of the bar reading the newspaper, nursing a pint for what seems like hours, occasionally pitching in on a conversation. For many the pub is a place of refuge offering, for some among us, the only real contact with the outside world.
Most will know that running a pub comes with huge personal sacrifice, both financially and mentally. It’s seldom an easy day and landlords are constantly under pressure to draw in new clientele, knowing the importance for their regulars of keeping the doors open for business.
We know, like most industries, Covid- 19 has had a devastating impact on the pub trade. Pub owners are going to have to make incredibly difficult decisions about how to survive the current economic shut down.
No one seriously blames the government for introducing guidance for people to keep away, in order to stop the spread of this wicked virus. There is an unprecedented level of direct support available to businesses to help them and their staff, from direct grants and loans underwritten by the government as well as the employment retention scheme. Indeed, the government has recognised the importance of the pub specifically, by giving them the flexibility to remain open as a take-away and delivery service.
As we wade through these uncertain times, comforting stories from rural areas are beginning to trickle through offering us a ray of hope and positivity. Like many businesses, pubs up and down the country are facing the challenge head on in accordance with strict safety guidance.
I spoke with Lucy Bonner, a 23 -year- old landlady, who runs a pub in Furneux Pelham in rural Hertfordshire. The business is now not operating as a pub, instead she is delivering essential produce to locals while offering a take-away menu alongside beverages. Like many villages, hers has no shops in the nearby area and the limited public transport that exists, is now out the question. The pub has stepped in as pivotal local service.
Lucy is not alone in her innovatory efforts. Emma, Jim and Tashy Welch who run The Rock Inn at Hoath Corner in a leafy part of Kent are also offering take-away, daily meat and veg boxes. On top of this, they are feeding NHS workers for free and hosting virtual craft nights online to keep regulars engaged. Emma is also asking all home-schoolers, people in isolation, customers, friends and anyone else to make their own daily piece of bunting. The hope will be to join each piece together to decorate the village at a huge party to celebrate at the end of all this.
Stories of this nature are coming in from all corners of the country and I invite readers to check out Countryside Alliance Community Cheer hub, here where you can read some of the excellent, feel-good, examples of local independent businesses adapting and serving their local areas.
I can’t sugar-coat the reality pubs face and I wouldn’t even attempt to talk about finances on their behalf. All I can do, like many others living in rural areas where a pub remains *open* is to call on them to bring the pub to my doorstep.
Eventually we are going to beat this virus. I know where I’ll be heading the moment I’m granted the go-ahead: the pub. They have always been there for us in the past and we will need them again once this is over; but for now they need us if they are still to remain standing.
To every landlord up and down the country struggling through as best they can, I salute you. Britain needs you; Britain loves you.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher is a political commentator and spokesman for the Countryside Alliance. Follow him on twitter: @mometfisher