Social distancing risks 'permanently destroying’ cosy pubs

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Reopening hopes: one in three households in Cornwall rely on hospitality and tourism for at least part of their income (image: Getty/Albert Pego)
Reopening hopes: one in three households in Cornwall rely on hospitality and tourism for at least part of their income (image: Getty/Albert Pego)

Related tags Cornwall Furlough Legislation Health and safety

With one of the highest numbers of furloughed workers in accommodation and food sectors in the country, Cornwall is eagerly anticipating the reopening of hospitality.

There were 16,180 furloughed individuals in accommodation and food service sectors under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly unitary authorities as of 28 February, according to HMRC data.

This was closely followed by 15,570 in Birmingham  and 12,500 in the City of Edinburgh.

Across the whole UK, some 872,000 employees were fully furloughed in accommodation and food service sectors while 192,600 were partially furloughed, (as of 28 February.)

Heavily reliant on sector

“People associate Cornwall with fishing and farming but the truth is that the local economy is heavily reliant on the hospitality sector,” Derek Thomas MP for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (St Ives), explained.

“The lockdowns have been very hard for all those working in the pub trade,” he added.

Thomas said: "Landlords and landladies are hoping for a long and busy spring, summer and autumn to set them up for next winter and to get back on track but they are naturally concerned about when they will be able to get back to ‘business as usual’.

"Measures to maintain social distancing and reduce the risk of infection will probably be with us for a while and risk permanently destroying the welcoming and cosy atmosphere which makes the pub such a unique British institution."

Like many licensees across the country, those in Cornwall are hopeful of a trading future free from pandemic restrictions.

Ups and downs

Edmund Inkin, operator of the Gurnard's Head in St Ives and the Old Coastguard in Mousehole said his business had been well-positioned to adapt to the changing nature of restrictions while others had been less fortunate. 

Cornwall was allowed to operate with less stringent rules than most of the country throughout the autumn and winter of last year, under the regional tier system. 

With two food-led venues with accommodation offerings, Inkin said his business had been able “to cope with the ups and downs of the last year.”

He added: “Coastal and tourism (of which there are plenty in Cornwall) pubs coped much better than town centre ones. They were the type of places people wanted to visit, they often have more space outside and inside with square footage at less of a premium.”

Government support was “crucial” and customer support had enabled the pub to cope with the cost of closure and “most importantly to be able to keep all of our team on the payroll,” the operator added.

However, Inkin stressed many other venues, particularly independent and wet-led venues, had had “everything running against them.” 

Recruitment challenge

A challenge on the horizon would be to “have the people we need in the sector,” the licensee reflected.

“Recruitment looks pretty brutal and there will inevitably be a question over whether people still on the payroll want to keep working in the industry,” he said. “All at a time when venues need to reopen and there will be huge demand.”

The vast majority of pub staff will have spent most of the past twelve months on full time or part time furlough. This has sparked concerns about mental wellbeing in the trade with charities seeing a huge demand for mental health support from those working in the trade.

Cornish pub the Bowgie Inn hit the headlines last year when it won the Staff Welfare category in the Great British Pub Awards Pub Heroes 2020.

Operator Sally Pickles went above and beyond in maintaining regular contact not just with her team, but her team’s extended families, and even providing mindful sessions on the beach and bringing in yoga instructors to stream sessions.

One in three households in Cornwall rely on hospitality and tourism for at least part of their income, according to Steve Double MP for St Austell and Newquay.

Roar back

“Compared to many other sectors, hospitality will take much more time and continued government support to repair the damage,” the MP acknowledged. “The majority of the sector, especially SMEs, are not expecting to return a profit again until many months after they reopen.”

Pubs in Double’s constituency had “demonstrated remarkable resilience and perseverance throughout this pandemic; they have almost weathered this storm and are raring to roar back.”

“Following the financial crisis in 2008 the hospitality sector led the country's recovery by creating one in six of all new jobs and fueling economic growth. I know this sector is ready and capable to do the same again and I am confident with the right support they will do so,” he added.

Double said it was important “if at all possible” that the target of removing restrictions on social contact from 21 June was met, to help businesses to trade at maximum capacity. 

Pub company bosses have urged the Government to commit to this goal​ and not require venues to operate Covid-status certification schemes in order to drop social distancing rules.

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