'It is unviable to turn the lights on and open the door'

By Sandra Hughes, the Neuadd Fawr Arms, Carmarthenshire

- Last updated on GMT

Operator view: Sandra Hughes runs a pub in Cilycwm, Carmarthenshire with her husband and says hospitality has been unfairly punished by politicans
Operator view: Sandra Hughes runs a pub in Cilycwm, Carmarthenshire with her husband and says hospitality has been unfairly punished by politicans

Related tags: Wales, Welsh pub, Legislation, Health and safety

John and I have owned the Neuadd Fawr Arms in Cilycwm, Carmarthenshire for six years.

The pub is in a small rural village nestled between the Cambrian mountains and the Brecon Beacons in Wales. We have built up a successful business offering both visitors to the area and locals great food using local produce, good beer and a friendly service. 

With the first lockdown in March we thought we would be shut for a few weeks and made a list of jobs to do to keep us busy, jobs that have been on the 'to do' list longer than they should have.

We never anticipated that we would be shut for four months.

Still we remained positive and did everything that was asked of us to comply with being Covid-secure upon opening in July.

We decided that as the science was saying outdoors was safer we would open our garden but not inside the pub. Two-metre social distancing guidelines would make the business less viable. We set about making an outside bar, buying new benches, gazebos and gas heaters. The weather became very challenging so we put a marquee up. We worked hard at making the space welcoming, comfortable and safe.

Hard winter

As the weather turned colder going into October and with tourist numbers down we decided to move inside, again following all the guidelines to be Covid-secure. We put signs up, removed tables, reduced capacity, and did Track and Trace. 

Customers are now decreasing. Some nights we break even, others we lose money. If we break even, that’s fine. We can keep paying our staff, put the lights on and pay our bills.

We are trading at less than 30% compared to this time last year and it’s only going to get worse. Our trade always drops off mid-October and picks up the latter part of November with community events and Christmas parties. This isn’t going to happen this year and being closed for four of our busiest months means the cash reserves haven’t built up to see us through the quieter winter months. 

Once again people are being told to avoid hospitality despite there being very little evidence to suggest the spike in transmission is down to hospitality​. Numbers didn’t soar during July and August. People were encouraged into venues and told the risks were low with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. We have not yet been contacted by Track and Trace. 

Heart of community

We were left dangling over the weekend as to whether Wales are going into lockdown again with reports in the media and leaked documents saying we were.

Hospitality isn’t an industry that can open and shut without planning. Our pub is the heart of the community, somewhere people come to meet - often people who would otherwise not see anyone for weeks. Now it is unviable to turn the lights on and open the door. 

The Welsh Government's announcement on Monday [to close pubs for 17 days]​ was what we expected and we have decided that we won’t be opening fully after lockdown number two. 

We will have pop-up nights doing set menus so people do have somewhere to go, something to look forward to; more to keep a bit of hub in the community than anything. We will also look at improving our outside area so should we be in the same position next year we will be ready. 

Knock on impact

We are lucky that we have a small mortgage that we have frozen until March 2021 and another source of income so we will get through this and come out the other side. Not everyone is going to and it’s not just the pub that closes. It has a knock on effect for the butcher, the farmer, the brewer, the local shop you buy those extra bits from, the waste recycling company and all the businesses that supply the wholesale company you use. That means jobs in other sectors.

I say to all those people who keep saying ‘close the pubs and restaurants, it’s not essential to go out to eat and drink’: think about all the businesses apart from us that will fold if we do. 

The Governments are making it impossible for us to survive, have bumbled from one rule to another and have shown complete ignorance to our trade.

In Wales, between 21 March and 9 November, we will have been allowed to trade for 75 days and will have been closed for 139. This is totally unsustainable. 

We have always  - before Covid, during Covid and will continue to after Covid - put our customers’ safety first. We have always sanitised and maintained good hygiene levels. 

What is happening now is soul destroying so let us do what we do without the continuous blame being put at our doors.

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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