As the government prepares to gradually lift restrictions on hospitality following the third shutdown, pub managers Emma Parkhouse and Sheri Edwards are tidying the walls of the Victorian building they run in the city of St Albans, near London.
“I never imagined that a year later we would still be closed,” said Parkhouse, standing behind a bar that was short of beer.
“It is difficult, we face many obstacles, but we are trying to stay positive,” he told AFP of the independently run pub next door to The Odyssey theaters, have also been closed since the latest government restrictions were put in place Christmas Day.
“We can’t do any more lockdowns,” said Edwards, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has “wiped out” profits since 2019.
Parkhouse said Great Northern – which competes with many other pubs in the cathedral city – has managed to stay afloat thanks to the country’s “essential” financial support and “reinvention of business” to offer pints and takeaway meals.
Apart from refreshing the interior of the building with patterned wallpaper, changes were also made to the garden, with an increase in the size of social distancing.
From April 12, British pubs will be allowed to serve alcohol only to customers sitting outside, with indoor locations having to wait another month before reopening.
“We were full for that first week … just had to pray it wouldn’t rain,” said Parkhouse, shortly after an early morning drizzle had drenched the paved gardens.
The British Beer and Pubs Association says Britain has lost about 2,000 of its 50,000 waterholes over the past year – a blow to an industry already hit by changes in social habits, property taxes and stiff competition from supermarkets.
“Our sector has been devastated by Covid-19 and the lockdown,” said BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin.
UK pub beer sales last year slumped by £ 7.8 billion ($ 10.9 billion, 9.1 billion euros), according to the association.
That’s down 56 percent compared to 2019.
“Unfortunately, we still haven’t seen the full extent of the damage and won’t be doing it for some time until things really get back to normal,” added McClarkin in the sector’s latest update.
CAMRA, which seeks to promote authentic ales and safety pubs as part of Britain’s cultural and social heritage, is expressing hope despite the prospect of further closings.
“It is difficult to predict, but we are optimistic,” said Iain Loe, a representative of the lobby group, told AFP.
“We are grateful for the little help … (the government) has provided. We want a little more, and we will continue to pressure them for more.”
The impact of pub lockdowns also has an impact on customers, particularly those whose only regular contact is their local “friendly face,” according to Parkhouse.
“Isolation, it’s terrible. You come to a pub as a place to connect with people,” he said.
“A lot of people depend on us and we rely on them and we have a very close relationship with our neighbors and it’s really sad not to see them all.”