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Pubs in lockdown nightmare

'The first lockdown saw people get a lot of goodwill from utility companies. That won’t last forever.'

05 November, 2020 — By Harry Taylor

Natasha Purdom at the North Star with sons Jonti and Torann

PUB landlords are counting the cost of an order to stay shut for a month as a new national lockdown kicks in today (Thursday).

They said they feared that the measure could be extended beyond an initial timetable of December 2 and hit their crucial Christmas period.

Natasha Purdom, landlady of the North Star in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, said she felt safety measures in pubs meant they were a low cause of Covid transmission.

She said: “They [the government] had the opportunity to do a two-week ‘firebreak’ over half term so we didn’t have to go into a stronger lockdown. They have missed the boat and businesses will have to pay the price. They are bailing out TfL and the travel industry is asking for help, and we’re only getting £2,000 to £3,000 a month. That doesn’t even cover my rent.”

Bars have already had to cope with the first-wave lockdown, then a 10pm curfew, followed by a London-wide Tier 2 rule on not meeting friends or relatives from other households indoors in pubs.

“The transmission rates are less than 5 per cent in pubs,” said Ms Purdom. “They say ‘What about when people get together and get too friendly’, but [councils] put the rules on us. As licensees we have a duty of care to customers, we aren’t allowed to serve people when they’re drunk.”

Stuart Langley of the Dartmouth Arms in York Rise agreed. “We are health and safety-led all year round, all the time, regardless of whatever pandemics there might be in the world. We’re safe spaces, anyway, because good spaces, don’t allow people to lick each others faces. We are safety, safety, safety, always are, always were.”

The 42-year-old has turned to a novel approach to try and keep some money coming in during the latest lockdown.

On Monday the pub will open as a daytime members-only co-working space for its 10 founding clients, who have paid a special rate of £100 each.

“The idea has been around since before Covid, as we have an empty pub during the day,” he said.

“People, even if they’re working from home, might be in a shared house or it might be parents with children. They might want to come somewhere a bit sociable, get out of the house and work.”

Mr Langley also criticised new rules for “off sales” which could prevent bars from selling takeaway beers to customers, as they did over the summer.

New rules mean sales are only permitted if ordered by text, online or even post, instead of in person. “If they aren’t allowed, then it’s a very disgusting situation to be in, where I can’t sell a bottle of wine to my customers to drink at home but the off licence over the road can,” he said.

He is concerned about mounting bills faced by publicans, adding: “The idea that we can go into quarter one next year as a business and pay the rates having not had the Christmas period is a terrifying thought. The first lockdown saw people get a lot of goodwill from utility companies. That won’t last forever.”

He said that staff will be furloughed, as did the owner of the King William IV in Hampstead High Street and the Old Eagle in Royal College Street, Jimmy McGrath. He said he was caught off-guard by the government’s announcement and joked that he’ll spend the next month polishing up on his poker playing.

“I don’t disagree with it if it makes sense and cuts the virus out,” he said. “We’ll lose £10,000 this month but we haven’t suffered too much this summer because we’ve got the garden.”

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