CORONAVIRUS rules are remaining in place in England for another four weeks, but Shropshire landlords certainly “can’t grumble”.
England was due to move to stage four of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown on June 21, but Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that those plans will now be pushed back, delaying the “Freedom Day” celebrations – the restoration of bar, restaurants and entertainment venues to their full capacity – deep into July.
But one Shropshire landlady has said that’s better than the “disaster” that would be another lockdown, while one other pub owner is just happy to be back open at all.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of a delay to a full return to normal earlier this week did little to dampen the spirits of punters visiting the Kings Head in Oswestry and Whitchurch’s White Bear on Friday night (June 18) – luckily, neither did England’s Euro 2020 1-1 with arch rivals Scotland, with both pubs packed.
“There was a bit of mixed feeling following the result but it was really busy and really loud,” said Mara Blanchett, landlady at the White Bear.
“People were signing, while others were disappointed. But we were full before, during and after the game.”
In Oswestry, Kings Head owner Paul Fitton has had the back beer garden extended just in time for the summer’s sporting events, which has paid dividends.
“It was really good last night; we’ve got numerous screens, we’ve just extended the back beer garden, so it was great,” said Paul.
“We had a good crowd, all the seats were taken. Everyone seemed happy, no-one seemed disappointed, I just think everyone’s happy to be back.
“We had a really good take last night so hopefully it just gets better. We can’t grumble at all.”
Between the two towns, in Ellesmere, Black Lion manager Chris Peach was similarly pleased.
“We were full for the game last night; we’ve got two screens outside and that was full, as was the sports bar and we’ve got a function room too and that was also full,” he said.
“We had a few Welsh fans and one or two Scottish but there wasn’t any handbags, in fact I don’t think we had any arguments.”
While limits on social contact are keeping down spending in Powys pubs across the border, business in Shropshire, while probably not booming, seems to be at least budging in the right direction.
New figures suggest that Powys punters spent 40 per cent less in pubs over the period since the hospitality sector reopened than they did in February 2020, before the pandemic struck.
Mara admits adhering to social distancing rules while still trying to turn a profit isn’t ideal, but she’s happy to be patient.
“It’s not ideal or perfect, but it’s worth it,” she said.
“If we have to do this to comply and get people in, we’ll follow the rules. It’s easier said than done, we all want to get back to normal, but we have to be patient as we certainly don’t want another lockdown, because that would be disastrous for many in the hospitality sector.
“We’ve been quite busy since reopening so we’re lucky, we’ve got the beer garden doing well with the cocktail bar out there. We’ve got lots of customers following rules which is important.”
“With food we’re almost sort of back to pre-Covid levels,” beamed Paul.
“Hopefully, we will be back to normal even more in the next month with restrictions easing.”