Community pubs and shops plot their exit from lockdown

Meanwhile, Plunkett Foundation and the Co-op Group have published research on the value of community businesses to local wellbeing

With the government giving the green light for pubs to reopen tomorrow (4 July), community locals are preparing their return.

Pubs in the sector have continued trading through the pandemic by operating shops and meal delivery services. This complements the UK’s network of community owned grocery stores which have stayed open, offering a lifeline to their communities.

But not all areas are so lucky. Ripple Effect, a new report from Plunkett Foundation and the Co-op Group warns that rural locations lacking facilities such as pubs, restaurants and shops – including those unable to re-open safely after 4 July – could see a negative shift in residents’ general wellbeing.

Plunkett, the support charity for rural community business, says remote and rural areas which maintain their social spaces through community-ownership experience improved interaction, positivity and engagement.

The report also suggests these business models could be among the most resilient: 67% of community pubs supported by Plunkett continued to trade in some capacity throughout May and June compared to just 28% from the wider pub industry.

The Ripple Effect argues that, as well as maintaining a valuable asset or service, these shared ventures can help address inequality, loneliness, wellbeing, connectivity, work and training.

James Alcock, Plunkett’s chief executive, said: “Keeping people connected is a crucial element to maintaining good mental wellbeing in rural areas, where challenges such as unemployment and deprivation are very real.

“Community-owned and run businesses have shown themselves to be innovative and adaptable during the Covid-19 crisis – involving many people across diverse communities.

“As the UK heads into an uncertain economic future, our report shows that their role to provide employment, training, contributing to an equal society and keeping people connected is needed now more than ever.”

Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells said: “Cooperative business models have been successful for hundreds of years. Community-owned businesses have a critical role to play in their local economy and a community’s wellbeing – we urge the government not to overlook their potential as they seek to rebuild the UK post COVID, especially in more remote areas.” 

Community pubs have been carefully planning their reopening, which means compliance with government rules on social distancing and the collection of customer names for track and trace purposes. These must be held confidentially and will be deleted after 21 says.

One pub which is reopening is the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham. Its website says: “This will require contactless temperature checks, contactless card payments and keeping socially distanced all times. As a result, our capacity will be greatly reduced and we will implement a booking system to help manage demand for seats, which is another requirement. 

The Dog Inn, in Belthorn, Lancs, is also making its return, with opening hours 2-8 pm Wednesday to Sunday. Its coffee shop will open from 2-4 pm, and its shop will be open at all times. Strict rules mean table service only, no cash payments and no drinking at the bar. Hand sanitiser will be provided and customers will be encouraged to sit outside. Plastic glasses and four-pint pitchers will be used to minimise customer staff contact.

The Gardeners Rest in Neepsend, Sheffield, reopens on 8 July, for limited hours Wednesday-Sunday. The team has reconfigured its seating to ensure 2m distancing; there is no pre booking and tables will be subject to availability, and customers will he asked to provide the first names of their party for track and trace purposes. Names will be deleted after 21 days.

The Duke of Marlborough

Other community pubs to reopen include the Duke of Marlborough in Somersham, Suffolk, which returns tomorrow, with advance bookings only.

“Customers will be seated outside (undercover) for the first few weeks and we will be following the government guidance carefully; your safety and ours is paramount,” it says.

“Please expect one way systems, queuing at 2m distance, and lots of signs!  But don’t worry, we will aim to greet you and explain all on arrival. A little extra patience may be needed as we all get to grips with the new procedures.”

The return to normality will be a careful and gradual one: The Craufurd Arms in Maidenhead, for instance, is opening its beer garden on a trial basis, for shareholders only.

Other pubs in the sector are biding their time. Iain Chambers, who runs the Bevy in Brighton, said: “We are having a major redecoration which is unfinished. We would also rather wait and learn from first couple of weeks of reopening of other pubs.

“We will most likely begin by offering a carefully structured and guaranteed safe visit to those who have had to lead the most restricted lives during lockdown, and who remain vulnerable to the virus. We think that will be best achieved before opening our doors more widely.

“We are then likely to open with restricted hours and days rather than immediately return to a seven day, all day opening as happened before the crisis. The Bevy needs to be around next year and in the next decade, and if waiting a few more days or weeks will ensure that then we think our customers will understand.”

Community bookshops are also reopening. This week, October Books, the community owned bookstore in Southampton, reopened its doors – four days a week, from 10am-4pm for collection and 11am-2pm for no-contact browsing.

A statement on the shop’s website says: “With the rapidly shifting (and often confusing) government advice we are continuing to take your safety, and that of the team, very seriously. So although we are officially open (and believe us we can’t wait to see you!) we are asking you to follow advice when you visit the shop.”

Guidelines include a two-customer, or one-household, limit at any one time; two metre social distancing; use of hand sanitiser or compostable gloves; card – preferably contactless – payments only; and that customers only touch items they wish to buy.

A plastic screen has been placed at the till along with two metre markers on the floor; workers have been provided with PPE and all touch points will be regularly cleaned.

“You’ll be greeted by a member of the team who will be able to answer any questions you might have. And by following this advice you’ll be helping keep both us and you safe.

“Our community space is still closed to the public, as is our secondhand and sale corridor,” the team adds. “We are not accepting any donations of secondhand books at this time.”

Malvern Book Co-operative reopened on 18 June, Thu-Sat, 10am to 2pm – also with limited customer numbers and strict social distancing in place.

“Traditional browsing will need to wait a bit longer ,” it says on its website, “but we will have a table of new releases and popular titles, and we can bring you a selection of books to look at (any un-purchased titles will then be quarantined for a few days before being returned to the shelves).

“Like all businesses, we’re at the ‘let’s see how this plays out’ stage – so things will almost certainly be tweaked and adjusted as we go along and we can see what works and what doesn’t.”

Other community bookshops which have reopened include Crediton Community Bookshop in Devon and Clevedon Community Bookshop in Somerset.

Other community bookshops – including News From Nowhere in Liverpool and George Street Community Bookshop in Glossop – have still to reopen but are continuing to take online orders.

News From Nowhere has tweeted ‘Plans are afoot for our reopening – watch this space!”. And an Instagram post from George Street says: “We aren’t open yet but will be soon and can’t wait to see our other indie bookshop friends doing the same!”

Meanwhile, the Fairtrader shop in Holmfirth – which offers ethical hardware, food and gifts – reopened for business on 26 June.