Ever since time was called on England’s pubs on 20 March, talk of when they could finally reopen has become one of the most highly anticipated events of the summer. With a date of 4 July now set, what does this mean for pubs and breweries?
‘Our pub is too small to open’
When your pub measures 4.5m by 2.1m (15ft by 7ft), social distancing is always going to present a major problem, even with the reduction of the rule from 2m to “1m plus”.
Until 2016, the Nutshell Pub in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk held the Guinness World Record for the UK’s smallest pub.
One of its landlords, Geoff Page, said as a consequence, customers are never that far from staff behind the bar.
“It’s a unique problem for a unique pub,” he said.
The pub, which features a ceiling covered in currency from around the world, as well as a mummified cat, is so compact that its cellar has a bigger footprint than the bar area.
Geoff compared the close-quarters site to the London Tube where people are so tightly packed they need to wear a mask.
“From the same perspective you should be wearing a mask [in the pub] but it’s not conducive to a relaxing beer,” he said.
Geoff said if social distancing had remained at 2m, it would have been “impossible” to maintain in his tiny premises, although he still has concerns about its viability at 1m.
“Unless people literally stood still inside, it wouldn’t work. [And] when people come out for a drink everyone’s going to relax for a bit. It’s human nature and it’s hard to fight and even harder once you’ve got a couple beers in you.”
Mr Page said he had been speaking to West Suffolk Council about whether The Nutshell could serve customers on the pavement outside.
“Were that to be the case it’s a potential game-changer and would allow us to open. It’d be fingers crossed for a sunny summer.”
‘Everyone is keen to do their bit’
The Chestnut Horse in Great Finborough, Suffolk, had only been open for six months when it had to close in March.
It’s now going to reopen with the help of villagers who have donated garden furniture to make it a primarily outdoor space.
As the only amenity in the village, landlady Sharon Shipp adapted the pub during lockdown and turned it into a community shop selling essential items and made the smoking shelter a library.
“When it became clear we’d have to close I was gutted, business had been phenomenal,” she said.
“But then I thought a lot of the people in this village are elderly or vulnerable so why not turn it into a shop, just stock the essentials. People were struggling to get what they needed at the shops.
“It’s a very small village but there’s so much community spirit here.”
It has taken two weeks to convert it back into a real-ale selling pub and locals from the village, famous as the home of DJ John Peel, donated garden furniture, paint and flowers so the outdoor space could be transformed to allow as many people as possible to return on 4 July.
Neil Watts, who helped with donations, said: “It just has become a hub in the village and still is.
“The whole community has been delivering furniture, it’s a real team effort, everyone is keen to do their bit, they’re keen to support Sharon and her team because they’ve made such a difference to us.”
Ms Shipp has said although she is pleased at the changes being made to allow pubs to open she still worries about safety.
Speaking about social distancing restrictions being cut to 1m, she said: “We’ve got to adjust the business for the virus. We’ve got a responsibility, especially as publicans, to keep our community safe.”
‘Customers will notice differences’
Greene King, based in Bury St Edmunds, has 1,700 pubs nationwide and is introducing £15m worth of safety measures to protect customers and staff, changing the face of a “normal” pub experience in the process.
Perspex screens and PPE, ordering by app, hand sanitising upon arrival, distanced tables and a one-in-one-out traffic light system for using the toilets, will be just some of the new methods in place.
Brewer Adnams, which is based in Southwold, said it was “working towards minimum contact” at its 45 sites in the east of England.
Staff will be wearing PPE and customers will be able to order, pay and access menus through apps on their phones.
“Our job is to continue to do everything we can to make our experience as relaxing, enjoyable, safe and clean as possible for our guests.”