COVID-19: ‘Bleak future’ for UK pubs as they mark a year since first lockdown closures

UK pubs face a “bleak future” as they mark a year since being forced to close due to the first coronavirus lockdown.

Dave Mountford, a publican and campaigner at the Forum for British Pubs, told Sky News that at least 2,000 pubs have already closed permanently.

He said the remainder will need significant financial help.

“Pubs will need additional financial support for years if they are to recover from this,” Mr Mountford said.

“Many pubs will be reopening with a huge amount of debt. They took bounce-back loans but this industry hasn’t bounced back and we don’t know if drinkers will even return to wet-pubs.

“Will people have got used to drinking at home over the past year? If I’m honest, it’s a pretty bleak future.”

In Chinley, a rural village in Derbyshire, the Old Hall Inn is preparing for outdoor reopening in mid-April.

Landlord Dan Capper described the past year as “brutal”.

He said: “We thought we’d be shut for weeks, not months, not a year.

“We’ve taken on significant amounts of debt to get us through this. We’re confident we can bring it back but it doesn’t make it any less painful or difficult.”

Due to local tier restrictions, Mr Capper’s pub and restaurant never reopened after the November lockdown.

His team of 68 staff have been furloughed and he said: “Seeing an empty pub, it’s just so soulless.”

As is the case for all venues, the next few months with be critical.

Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, has launched a High Court case to challenge the delayed opening of indoor hospitality, asking the government for “evidence or justification” as to why non-essential retail is able to reopen ahead of indoor hospitality.

But in the interim, many local council licensing teams are working with pubs, bars and restaurants to help turn nearby public outdoor space into areas for drinkers and diners.

At the Old Hall Inn, the pub garden has been covered with tents and outdoor heaters to safely maximise space for when restrictions partially lift on 12 April.

Mr Capper said: “We don’t know what we’re going to open to – how busy or whatever, so we’re just making sure that we start slowly. And then build it back up.

“I just can’t wait to get our staff and customers back.”

Meanwhile, the government has announced new funding to refresh the look of high streets and seaside towns in the hope that they will attract tourists this summer.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said councils will be given £56m to clean up graffiti, plant greenery, invest in outdoor seating and set up, and market pop-up food stalls.

“This funding will help councils and businesses to welcome shoppers, diners and tourists back safely,” he said.

“As soon as the roadmap allows, we need to get behind our local businesses and enjoy all that this country has to offer and that we’ve been missing so much.

“I’m allowing every pub in the country to erect a marquee in their garden for the whole summer as a one-off power to support our locals.”

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The initiative has been welcomed as a “good first step” by John Turner, chief executive of Visit Somerset, but he warned that the support should go further to cover the huge losses caused by the pandemic.

“We saw about 70% of our turnover of our business completely wiped out over that period of time which has been… devastating for us,” he said.

“However, we are now seeing that pent up demand and we’re hoping to see a resurgence coming back though for this particular summer.”

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