In September 2018, Calvin Dow of the Castle Inn in Skipton, North Yorkshire, levelled a light-hearted dig at difficult customers and online review culture in tongue in cheek poem Life Behind Bars.
However, speaking to The Morning Advertiser (MA) in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic and an on-trade shutdown, Dow laughs: “I will never, ever slag my customers off again – I’ve realised how much I really appreciate every single one of them.
“I will never say I’m bored again, ever, in my life. If I ever hear anybody say ‘I’m bored’, I’ll tell them ‘you obviously didn’t live through the 2020 lockdown – because this is bored’.”
Since Prime Minister Boris Johnson called upon pubs to close their doors on Friday 20 March, Dow has furloughed all the Castle Inn’s staff as well as both applying for and receiving a Government grant – which he says staff at his local authority worked through their weekend to process.
“It was announced as we were closing on the Friday which, while I think the Government has been fantastic, they could have done sooner they did,” Dow explains.
“I didn’t want to make my own call to close because all my customers would go to another pub that was still open and staff would be asking ‘why are you closing and they’re not?’ We needed to be told to close so everyone was in the same boat.
“Other than not closing a week before they did, I can’t really fault the Government,” he continues. “I think Boris, as a person, appreciates the British pub and what it’s all about – I think he gets it.”
Rolling out charitable donations
Despite initially running a takeaway service to fulfil as many Mother’s Day bookings as possible, Dow explains that his pub has now completely closed its doors.
“We closed on the Friday but were fully booked for Mother’s Day on the Sunday – which was a bit of a hit because you wait all year for Mother’s Day then, obviously, we had to close,” he says.
“Out of 100 bookings we managed to do 50 takeaway meals – which was outstanding, I was happy with that. Obviously, people hadn’t planned, hadn’t been shopping, they all expected to come to the pub.
“We’re quite well known locally for our Sunday lunches and a few people did ask about takeaways. The only issue I’ve got with it is that I pay a chef. I don’t think it’d be worth us doing it because from what we’d get from the takeaways, we’d be paying someone to drive it out and for someone to cook it. I’d be no better off. It’s better to close unless I was doing the cooking myself. It’s just a case of finances really.
“I’ve donated all the crisps, nuts, chocolate and snacks I had as well as some soft drinks – whatever was going to go out of date,” he continues. “Half of it went to the ambulance station and half of it to the police station for the key workers.
“I had a s**t tonne of toilet paper left over when we closed so I’ve donated to the local food bank – they could get food but nobody was going to give them toilet paper.”
Fulfilling need for pub interaction
Dow explains that despite claims to boredom, he’s managed to maintain close contact with local publicans and customers alike – even managing potentially to attract new visitors during their daily exercise allocation despite social distancing measures.
“I live just opposite the pub and every time I’ve stood on my balcony, I see new people pass at the same time every day,” he says. “They’re going to come into the pub when we reopen. Everyone’s come together.
“We’ve got a WhatsApp group, the Castle Inn virtual taproom, for regular customers, which is just basically the crap we talk at the bar just minus the beer. The staff are all on it as well so it’s just like the pub – we’re all interacting.”
However, Dow adds that despite a large portion of his WhatsApp notifications alerting him to jokes and funny videos from quarantined regulars, he explains that continuing bar side chat in lockdown plays an important role for local potentially missing out on their much-needed social fix at his pub.
“I’m personally calling about five of my elderly regulars every week,” he says. “They’ve got good sons and daughters who are doing their shopping for them but it’s just the landlord giving them a ring and making sure they’re all right.
“Some people need the pub interaction. They get up in the morning, have the wife and kids, work all day and, for two hours, they come into the pub for is their outlet – and it’s been taken away. It’s not just about the alcohol. It’s like I’m not just a landlord at the minute, I’m a friend. It’s quite positive.
“It’s about adapting, really – nobody alive has ever been through this before so nobody you speak to, no matter how old they are, has a clue.”
Support network of publicans
In terms of Dow’s own support network, he explains that the close-knit community of publicans in and around Skipton has been invaluable.
“There are about 30 of us publicans in town and we all get on – there’s enough of the pie in Skipton for us all to have a slice to be honest. We used to meet up regularly to have a chat.
“We're always texting as we’ve got a publicans’ WhatsApp group and everyone’s checking ‘are you getting this, are you getting that, have you applied for your grant, what are you doing about this?’ We’ve all worked quite closely together. It’s only a small town is Skipton so there’s no need to fall out – we’re not really competition.
“A lot of the publicans and regulars when they’re walking with their children or walking the dog pass by and, as I’ve got my balcony, we can physically see and speak to each other from a legally acceptable distance.”