Chaplins & Cellar Bar in Boscombe, Bournemouth won the title of Best for Entertainment Pub at the Great British Pub Awards in 2019, having been nominated for it six years in a row.
The venue faces an uncertain future as the reopening guidance for hospitality sites issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) makes clear that pubs should not permit live performances when reopening from Saturday 4 July.
Operator Harry Seccombe said arts pubs need support to get them through the next few months as reopening is not feasible presently.
Seccombe said: “I want to do it [reopen] when it is the right time to do it and when it makes sense economically as a business as well.”
Even with one-metre distancing, the venue can only operate at around 10% of its normal capacity, which translates to just 12 tables in a space that is used to hosting some 300 people at any one time.
The site’s trade hinges on its offer of arts performances and community atmosphere, Seccombe said, with an annual live entertainment budget of around £100,000 going towards some 500 events.
He added: “I put all sorts of events on and I don't necessarily put ones on that are going to make lots of money. Busier events subsidise the not-so busy ones. I don't get any funding and we don’t do tickets, it's free.
“We put a lot of money back into the business to keep this model running. It's a very unusual model, that's why we have won so many awards. We really do support the local industry in terms of arts - we do poetry, comedy, theatre and live music."
The operator added: “There’s no way we can open and it leaves us very vulnerable. We have no firm date from the Government, just this very vague roadmap, which doesn't have anything specific in it.
"The Government is being a bit disingenuous by saying we [pubs] can all open, but you're not allowed to do any music or entertainment and everything we do - being close, singing, dancing - is high risk."
“Some people are saying we might not get live music inside in a venue like mine this year, which is frightening, especially if there is no support and they withdraw the furlough. Just withdrawing the furlough will put me out of business, we would have to start thinking of more radical things.”
Support package calls
Seccombe currently has 28 staff on furlough under the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will require employers to contribute a small amount from August.
The Music Venues Trust has called on ministers to provide a support package worth £50m for venues whose trade has historically relied on live performances to carry them through the next three months.
They have launched a crowdfunding initiative under the #SaveOurVenues campaign, with Chaplins one of many venues asking customers for donations to tide them over until better times return.
The trust has also called on the Government to introduce a reduction on VAT on future ticket sales.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said the loss of live entertainment pubs would not only impact local economies but also the UK's creative music scene.
She added: “Many of our pubs are also cultural hubs with business models revolving around live performances. With these being banned for the time being these venues simply are not viable. The Government must find further ways to support all pubs that are unable to open, including live music venues as they endure a prolonged closure which will put many of them at further risk of permanent closure and job losses."
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality (UKH) also called for additional support to prevent job losses.
She said: "Businesses that rely heavily on live performances for revenue are clearly going to be hit hard. If businesses are still not able to host live performances by the time furlough support ends in October, then clearly some other support is going to be needed. We have been redoubling our efforts to expedite the return of these types of venues and others still unable to open.”
The 43-page guidance document published by BEIS states: “At this time, venues should not permit live performances, including drama, comedy and music, to take place in front of a live audience. This is important to mitigate the risks of aerosol transmission - from either the performer(s) or their audience. There will be further guidance setting out how performing arts activity can be managed safely in other settings, for instance rehearsing or broadcast without an audience.”