Devastating coronavirus rules mean landlords face ruin. ROBERT HARDMAN examines the effect on owners

As every new edict is handed down from the authors of the Covid rulebook, Frances Gledhill and her team here at the Red Pump Inn in the wilds of the Forest of Bowland have somehow found a way of making it work.

Indeed, they have gone the extra mile in their quest to make their remote country pub as safe and welcoming as possible. Hence the smart, open-sided marquee in the garden for extra, ventilated drinking space.

However, they fear that this week’s new round of restrictions may finally have got the better of them.

And it is a story which we will soon hear echoed right across the country.

On Wednesday, this panoramic spot in the middle of nowhere found itself placed under Tier 2 rules.

That is because the Red Pump Inn sits in a far-flung corner of the Red Rose county of Lancashire. And that puts it in the same bracket as far-away Covid hotspots like Blackpool and Blackburn.

The new restrictions, says Frances, have taken things to the brink.

Proprietor Frances Gledhill of the Red Pump inn, near Whitewell, Lancashire. Pubs and bars in the Manchester and Lancashire regions are to be placed into Covid-19 alert level tier 3

Now, if her pub (famous for its award-winning steaks) is tipped in to Tier 3, as is widely expected for Greater Manchester and the whole of Lancashire at any moment, then she may have no option but to shut up shop. 

She can cope with curfews and one-way systems for the loos and the ban on standing at the bar and the masks and all the rest.

But the loss of those customers who simply want to drop in for a pint – and who are outlawed under the Tier 3 ban on bar sales – will take out a further 20 per cent of takings. That, says Frances, could be the difference between struggling and sinking.

What’s more, she is already dealing with an excruciating task – one which now faces thousands of restaurant staff across much of the country, including London: sitting in judgment on other people’s relationships. 

For under both Tier 2 and Tier 3 rules, diners are forbidden from eating out with people from another household. That one restriction has just cost Frances £1,000 in cancelled bookings for this weekend alone.

‘We had several tables of six booked. One of them had been booked by three couples who had each also booked a room or one of our yurts in the garden.

So all those reservations have gone too.’ At least those guests were being honest. But what is a restaurant supposed to do with people who are either liars or else lead less conventional lives?

‘What are you expected to say when four adults sit down at a table and insist that they all live together?,’ asks Frances.

‘I can’t ask to see proof of their addresses. And I don’t want to be the Gestapo. This is supposed to be the hospitality industry!’

She has already had one unhappy confrontation with a customer who arrived for a family dinner with his grown-up children, admitted that they did not all live under one roof and then became ‘argumentative’ when she explained they would need separate tables.

And that was just on Night One of the new system. The vast majority of her diners, she says, will play by the rules. But it means that every day from now on is going to be like February 14th – minus the red roses and the chocolates.

‘It’s going to be Valentine’s Day all the time – just lots of tables of two,’ she says, ‘plus you might get parents with kids for a Sunday lunch. But that’s not enough to keep a pub going through the winter.’ 

Frances Gledhill and her team at the Red Pump Inn fear that this week¿s new round of restrictions may finally have got the better of them

Frances Gledhill and her team at the Red Pump Inn fear that this week’s new round of restrictions may finally have got the better of them

800 yards… but a world apart 

Two pubs, just a few minutes walk from one another, will be living under separate rules from midnight tonight in a stark example of divided Britain.

The Bell and Harp in Little Eaton, Derbyshire, falls within the Erewash council boundary – and was dumped into Tier Two of the new restrictions yesterday with different households now banned from mixing indoors.

Tracie Tunnicliffe, owner of The Fox and Hounds, which is in Coxbench, Derbyshire. It falls under Amber Valley council area and is better off than a neighbouring pub - The Bell and Harp - which is just 400 yards away and used to be in Coxbench but is now classed as Little Eaton after the boundary was moved

Tracie Tunnicliffe, owner of The Fox and Hounds, which is in Coxbench, Derbyshire. It falls under Amber Valley council area and is better off than a neighbouring pub – The Bell and Harp – which is just 400 yards away and used to be in Coxbench but is now classed as Little Eaton after the boundary was moved

Yet half a mile up the road, the Fox and Hounds in the village of Coxbench will carry on trading under existing restrictions, such as the rule of six. The country inn falls within the Amber Valley council area, which is under the lightest Tier One restrictions.

Fox and Hounds landlady Tracie Tunnicliffe, 59, said: ‘It seems crazy that two pubs so close will be operating under different restrictions. I’m sick of living from week to week or day to day, wondering what might be imposed next.’

Co-owners of The Bell and Harp John Green (left) and Martin Archer. The Bell and Harp is now classed as Little Eaton after the boundary was moved. Little Eaton is in Erewash, and the pub pays its council tax to Erewash district council, so it will be affected by the new rules

Co-owners of The Bell and Harp John Green (left) and Martin Archer. The Bell and Harp is now classed as Little Eaton after the boundary was moved. Little Eaton is in Erewash, and the pub pays its council tax to Erewash district council, so it will be affected by the new rules

It’s a similar situation a few miles away in Chipping, a handsome village with a tiny Post Office that claims to be the oldest shop in continuous use in the whole of England. Next door is the Tillotson Arms, a free-house run by Janet and Carl Watson.

With plenty of local ales on tap, two thriving darts teams and a mustard-keen dominoes league, ‘Tilly’s’ has always been a much-loved hub for a village which still revolves around farming.

Far-off Greater Manchester seems like another planet. But its infection rates now dictate the pace of life in sleepy Chipping, where the local pub has yet to receive a single call from the track-and-trace network.

The ban on drinking at the bar had already consigned the pool table to the garage so that Janet could find room for extra Covid-compliant tables and chairs. This week’s Tier 2 rules mean that people can now only come here with their families. ‘The main reason people want to come to the pub is to see their friends and leave their families behind at home,’ says Janet, with a hollow laugh.

She and Carl made it through the spring lockdown thanks to the Government’s one-off business grant and have since tried everything in their quest to keep this place alive. 

New initiatives include brunch (or ‘Sunday breakfasts’ as they say in Chipping) and a scheme whereby home-workers can reserve a pub table for the day, bring the laptop to Tilly’s and enjoy limitless tea, coffee and biscuits. 

There is now a beer garden, too. ‘It had a new gazebo but that blew away the other day – so that was another £200 gone,’ sighs Janet. 

The 10pm curfew was bad – ‘a lot of our farmers can’t get down here much before ten anyway’ – and the ban on meeting friends has been even worse. 

But the imposition of a Tier 3 ban on all drinks (unless people order a meal) could be disastrous. ‘I think we might have to shut down until the spring and I’ll have to find a job doing something else,’ says Janet.

Ten miles away, the car park is full at one of north Lancashire’s best-known haunts, the Inn at Whitewell. Inside, however, business is down by 50 per cent because every table is occupied by just two people.

This famous old hotel draws walkers from across the North who like to stride across the moors and then adjourn for a drink and the famous fish pie. 

It has glorious views and the honour of being the last place where the Queen enjoyed a pub lunch. After all, she also happens to own the freehold since Whitewell sits on land belonging to her Duchy of Lancaster.

‘I remember the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001 and that was bad,’ says the proprietor, Charlie Bowman. ‘But nothing can ever prepare you for 103 consecutive days with the doors shut. Our main priority through all of this – and still right now – is hanging on to our staff.’ 

His brewery-owning grandfather bought the hotel because he enjoyed fishing on the adjacent river. His father Richard, who played cricket for Lancashire, filled the place with his collection of antiques.

Mr Bowman remains resolutely cheerful as he talks me through some of the unexpected challenges of recent months, like having to find storage space for all the antiques which have had to make way for new Covid-era furniture.

Tier 2, he says, has been bad enough. And Tier 3? As well as banning the traditional pub customers, the top tier includes a ban on ‘all unnecessary travel’ – which has obvious and dire implications for any pub in the back of beyond.

‘I haven’t done the financials on that yet,’ says Mr Bowman. ‘We just don’t know what’s happening. And anyway, I can’t face it!’           

The British pub is safer than a supermarket aisle – yet now, through utter foolishness, it faces oblivion

Commentary by Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young’s Pubs

Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young's Pubs brewery group

Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young’s Pubs brewery group

The disastrous and counter-productive extension of lockdowns announced by the Government yesterday is a catastrophe from which the pub trade will never fully recover.

By banning household mixing in pubs in London and beyond, Boris Johnson is condemning hundreds of thousands of the 1.3million people who work in it to the scrapheap of unemployment.

And millions more will have their social lives grievously disrupted. Personally, I am still in a state of shock from the realisation that as of tomorrow, I will be forbidden to meet my own son for a pint.

Mr Johnson might respond by suggesting we go to the pub garden – which is still allowed in groups of up to six – but I’m afraid this merely underlines how this government fails to understand human nature. Drinking outside is scarcely a tempting prospect as autumn makes way for the hard chill of November.

When the first shutdown was eased back in July, Britain’s 60,000 or so publicans spent tens of millions of pounds turning their pubs into biosecure sanctuaries from the national trauma of Covid – becoming experts on virology and the installation of Perspex screens overnight.

Extra staff were recruited and trained, facemasks were procured and bottles of hand gel appeared where once there had been bowls of peanuts.

Our pubs are now safer than most supermarket aisles, yet we are the ones facing oblivion, writes Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young Pubs

Our pubs are now safer than most supermarket aisles, yet we are the ones facing oblivion, writes Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young Pubs

Pub staff became recruiters for track and trace, urging drinkers to download and use the government app. They kept their side of the bargain by making their premises safe, preventing the build-up of large crowds of standing drinkers outside and coming down hard when the pub threatened to get rowdy. 

The brewery I run, Young & Co, has 300 pubs. Due to the dedication of our publicans and staff, I can report that across the entire pub estate, we have had precisely three members of staff and six customers notify us of a positive Covid test since July.

Our pubs are now safer than most supermarket aisles, yet we are the ones facing oblivion. Public Health England says pubs and restaurants account for less than three per cent of transmissions; our experience suggests the figure is much lower than that.

The pubs did their bit – and much more – and yesterday the Government responded with drastic new measures in London and other cities which will tip thousands of them into oblivion.

This is the second hammer blow the trade has suffered, coming as it does after last month’s abrupt and entirely pointless 10pm curfew.

This actually increased the threat by creating ‘Petri-bubbles’ of cross-infection in city streets as people simultaneously trudged home or crammed on to public transport.

When pubs were allowed to reopen in July, we estimated cautiously that about 5,000 pubs would not survive.

Patrick Dardis: When pubs were allowed to reopen in July, we estimated cautiously that about 5,000 pubs would not survive. Pictured: People wearing face masks in Covent Garden in central London walk past the White Lion pub

Patrick Dardis: When pubs were allowed to reopen in July, we estimated cautiously that about 5,000 pubs would not survive. Pictured: People wearing face masks in Covent Garden in central London walk past the White Lion pub

But after the reckless introduction of the curfew, which predictably killed trade, I doubled this figure to 10,000. Now, with regional Tier Two restrictions covering half of England’s population, I think we will lose a third – that’s 20,000 British pubs.

I hesitate even to contemplate the number of job losses but certainly it will be several hundred thousand. The same contempt has also been shown towards restaurants, still subject to the 10pm curfew, which literally no one in the industry understands and no minister has even tried to justify.

I’m afraid that Boris Johnson’s decision to take the path of least resistance and cave in to his scientific advisers and muddle-headed epidemic ‘modellers’ is the last straw for the UK’s once booming hospitality trade.

London is becoming a wasteland of shuttered pubs, restaurants and theatres, and it is not Covid that is doing the damage but Mr Johnson’s abysmally ill-considered response.

If you want to know how foolish this move against pubs is, just watch the queues of shoppers buying up supermarket wine and lager this weekend.

Much of it will be consumed at the sort of rowdy, unpoliced parties that the Government says it wants to stop. And it is insane to believe that this sort of drunken housepartying poses less risk of virus transmission than a well-run pub.

My advice to regular drinkers who are no longer allowed to meet friends for a drink in their local is not to spend the coming weeks fantasising about that first pint with friends.

Because by the time the new lockdowns are lifted and Mr Johnson deems it safe for you to go back to your local pub, the chances are you will find it has permanently closed.   

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