How Doncaster's pubs are keeping above water as lockdown continues
Six months ago, Doncaster's pubs took their first tentative steps towards re-opening.
It was July, and coronavirus figures had fallen enough to allow some re-opening. Less than three months later, it was only pubs serving meals that could open, and by November all pubs were shut again.
Landlords and managers across Doncaster have faced a tough time – but some are still managing to keep things ticking over even now. For others, it is a case of survival through grants while bosses watch savings drain away.
But despite the pressures, bosses are fighting to make sure they can re-open in the future, but feel they may need help when they do finally get to re-open.
One pub that has managed to keep busy has been The Foresters Arms, in Adwick.
Landlady Donna Mourning said it had been tough, having initially re-opened on July 8.
They started doing takeaways as well as their usual drinks and meals, but for the last few months, those takeaways have been all they can do.
Takeaway Sunday lunches remain popular, and they have also tried a pie night.
But next week the pub on Village Street starts another role – as the site of a food bank.
Donna said: “We’ve been through all the restrictions, and it’s been hard, and we’ve kept going through the Sunday lunches. But now we’re opening up a community food bank.
"There’s a lot of hardship, and that’s become quite apparent. We’ve become aware that locally there are people who need help in these difficult times through no fault of their own. It’s not just the Foresters running it, but it is being run from our function room, which has not had any functions since March. We are just waiting for referrals. There has been a lot of generosity from the community.”
Food parcels will be put together at the pub and delivered to the recipients.
She said the future still feels uncertain with no date for the industry to re-open, but said she could not see it happening until May.
"We in hospitality seem to be the forgotten people,” she said.
In the town centre, Ian and Alison Blacklock have not opened their Doncaster Tap bar on Young Street, near Waterdale since March.
The couple also run the Doncaster Brewery, and have not been brewing since July.
Alison said because they did not re-open in July they had not been eligible for a grant, so had needed to find a revenue stream. They have done that by running deliveries using surplus beer from other breweries in areas such as Sheffield and Hull. She said they had a core of loyal customers who were keen to support them and make sure they would be able to re-open when conditions allow.
In the meantime, Ian is busy building a kitchen at their premises – to make sure they can re-open even if serving food is a condition of doing so again.
Alison said: “It’s fantastic that people still support us in times like these. But we need to be able to do food in case we are put back in tier three again. We can’t afford to stay closed much longer – the bills still come in.”
Nick Griffin runs the Little Plough, on West Laith Gate, near the Frenchgate Centre.
His staff are furloughed, but as a director he is getting no income from the pub, because there are no profits to take a dividend from.
He said he had been lucky in that the pub company that owns the site had reduced his rent.
Instead he is relying on a second job, teaching people how to drive railway locomotives. His wife, a nurse, is also earning.
Both of them have already suffered from coronavirus, and Nick is due to donate blood plasma in case his antibodies can help treat other patients.
He said he was pleased to see vaccination moving ahead quickly, but had no idea when pubs would be able to re-open or what restrictions that re-opening would come with.
"If it is the 2m rule and hand sanitiser, we still have all that in place,” he said. “But we don’t serve food here.
"I’ve been careful with my grants, and I’m very hopeful that we will re-open. It’s just when that we don’t know.
"I’m lucky that I’ve got a second income. There are people with nothing.
“Everyone needs to pull together, and people need to accept the vaccine if they’re offered it.”
On Silver Street, Martin Blagden only opened up Biscuit Billy’s for two weeks, after re-modelling it to allow for social distancing.
He said he had help from his pub company, which reduced the rent, and was receiving a Government grant. He said Doncaster Council had been very quick in processing the grants.
But he said: “Each week, it’s still costing me, and many others, to be shut, because it doesn’t cover all the expenses in full. We’re still building up debt or eating away at savings. But we’re trying to keep afloat until the day we can re-open.
"The whole business is built on people standing shoulder to shoulder listening to music and enjoying themselves. All I can see at the moment is my bank balance reducing. We still have to pay bills, some staff costs, licence costs, and insurance.
"When we open up again there will be people with massive debts.”
He said it was likely some pubs would close, and thinks the Government needs to keep support available when venues can re-open.
"It would be helpful to see help with rent and business rates for some time,” he said.
"It’s going to be really hard when we start again. Social distancing is going to be around for quite a while.
"Some of my staff have left for jobs in supermarkets and places like that. I'm really grateful for those who have stuck with me through furlough - I'll need them to re-open.”