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‘Freehouses are suffering too’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Business concern: freehouse owner Karen James is worried about her future and the effect of social distancing on reopening
Business concern: freehouse owner Karen James is worried about her future and the effect of social distancing on reopening

Related tags: coronavirus, Pubs

A freehouse licensee has told The Morning Advertiser of the struggles she is facing while trying to pay the mortgage on her pub amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Karen James runs the Severn View Inn, in Lydney, Gloucestershire, which she bought from Punch in 2012 after leasing the site since 2004.

She has been given a three-month mortgage holiday by her creditors but is worried about paying this back when she is able to reopen due to concerns about social distancing.

James said: “I contacted my mortgage provider and they have been fantastic. They have given me a three-month mortgage holiday and I've since received a letter to say if I want to extend it, to ring them to discuss it.

“Our payments are put onto the mortgage and that will incur, obviously, additional interest, which is going to make our mortgage payments higher once the mortgage holiday ends.”

Looking to when pubs begin to reopen, James outlined how she is concerned about how social distancing rules will impact the business.

Restrictions in place

She added: “I can see initially, there will be a lot of restrictions in place, which isn’t going to suit me here. I’m a very small, wet-led rural pub.

“I do have the benefit of a beer garden and car park but I don’t know if the car park comes under the licence for drinking or not. There’s neighbours to think of. I’m in the Forest of Dean so we are rural but obviously there are houses around me as well so I don’t know if that would be an option or not.

“It’s going to be great to have that furlough scheme extended for sure but to actually draw people back in, on a reduced rate, isn’t going to help anybody in the trade.

“I am holding my hands up and saying it won’t work with social [distancing] restrictions. And, when the mortgage holiday ends, if we go into reduced trading, we are then going to be paying higher mortgage payments on top of reduced trade.”

However, James also claimed being a freehouse made it more difficult during the crisis because she isn’t able to walk away from the pub.

Worse situation

She said: “There’s no emphasis on the free trade. The free trade is suffering too as well as the tenants. In one aspect, it’s a lot easier for them because they can just chuck the keys back at the pubco at the end of the day, we are not in a situation that we can do that.

“They could walk away, go and get a job wherever, we are not in that situation. It’s linked to our home, we stand to be right out on the streets.

“In reality, we are actually in a worse situation. I do feel that we are the forgotten side of the on-trade with it all.”

James said the community had been supportive but, being wet-led, she isn’t offering any takeaway or delivery services.

She added: “I've been here 16 years, that’s a long time to see everything crumbling around your feet and you’re helpless to do anything about it.

“Initially, everyone was thinking when the pubs reopen, there will be a massive, great big party but obviously that’s not going to happen.

“I am totally wet-led. It’s not like, at the moment, I've got an option to offer takeaway food, it's not worth doing takeaway beer because all the supermarkets are open.

“People aren't going to pay £3.50 for a pint when they can get crate of it for £10 at the supermarket. Everyone is saying ‘we can’t wait for you to open back up’ but I don’t think people are comprehending that opening isn’t going to be this great big party, which everyone has been looking forward to and expecting.”

Read the latest digital edition of The Morning Advertiser​ – for free – by clicking here​.

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