I pressed send and closed my laptop. It was nearly 1am. Everyone else had retired for the night. Whatever radio station that had been left on started to play ‘Heavy Is The Head’ by Stormzy and reader, I must confess, I burst into tears. It had been a long week, and it was only Wednesday.
I’d just sent out emails to all of our staff to explain that, at that point on the 18th March, we would be left with very little option other than to lay off everyone very soon. The Government had condemned our business to a customer-less bin and it seemed unlikely we would be able to weather the storm if the cavalry didn’t turn up pretty quickly.
Ever since things had become evidently serious over the weekend, we had felt like our pubs were becoming a ticking time bomb as we attempted to clean every square inch that any of our hundreds of customers may have touched during their journey through our buildings. The Government’s directive to just wash our hands a bit more didn’t instil us with the greatest confidence that there wouldn’t be germs being passed quite merrily around with very little we could do to combat the spread seeing as how we were just trying to get on with our jobs.
I’d, inexplicably, found myself on ITV’s national news on Tuesday lamenting the precarious position that hospitality businesses found ourselves in. Why would the Government tell people to avoid our business but then expect us to remain open? How were we supposed to support our teams on the dwindling income of a limited takeaway offering? Why were insurance companies being protected against claims by small companies with resultant loss of earnings, but those small companies weren’t receiving any protection at all? For all the teeth-gnashing, hand-waving and urgent talking, we received waves of support from our customers to bolster us through another day, but by 1am the following night I was distraught as I struggled to see how we could salvage our business or protect the livelihoods of our fantastic team.
By the time 5pm on Friday 20th rolled around, Nick and I had collectively had about seven hours sleep for the week. There were no easy answers and every day that passed with the four or so customers who dared to venture in just seemed to get more tortuous. It was, therefore, the biggest relief when the Prime Minister finally took the decision to close social venues like ours.
We no longer felt like we had to shoulder the burden of a public health crisis ourselves as we valiantly attempted to protect the health of our customers and staff. We no longer felt like we had to battle against banks and insurers without a leg to stand on because we’d been left out in the cold by the Government. We no longer felt like our staff had been abandoned as the Chancellor announced measures to protect their jobs. We went to bed that night feeling the knots in our stomachs slowly beginning to unravel.
In the intervening time, we’ve cleaned up, stripped down and locked up our beautiful pubs, mothballing them for happier times ahead. Nick has begun his list of odd jobs that have been accumulating for half a decade. I’ve spent pretty much every day at the laptop or on the phone trying to get answers. How long do we have to wait to receive grant money? How can we help our newest staff who aren’t eligible for furlough? How on earth are you supposed to plan liquidity for an undetermined amount of time in order to access that unicorn of Business Interruption Loan Scheme? Still no easy answers…
But we know we’re not alone. So many of you will also be trying to make contingencies for your own businesses based on very little information. Even more of you will be worrying about everything from leaving the house to ever getting back to work. Those of you who are still working will be feeling the fear and the pressure, but we are all so thankful for everything you’re doing for the rest of us. And everyone with children right now is a hero to try and feed some education into their questioning mouths, unable to answer when everything will just go back to normal.
When we signed the lease agreements for our pubs, we could never have foreseen a worldwide pandemic crashing down on our heads. Like so many others, we got into this trade because we love sharing these little boltholes with others and watching you enjoy them and make memories to cherish between these walls. We do it because we like a bit of banter whilst pouring a beer. We’ve always believed in doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve got.
We didn’t sign up to learning the entire UK employment law in five days or googling every third term on a loan application form to figure out what the hell it means. We didn’t sign up for saying goodbye to our staff and not really knowing when we’ll see them again. We certainly didn’t sign up for hoping our customers stay at home so that they stay safe, but here we are.
None of us signed up for the disaster movie that 2020 is turning out to be. For now, we remain thankful for our health, for a roof over our heads and a blissfully ignorant baby who, just for a moment, makes us forget about the harsh reality of life outside. When this is all over – and it will be, one day – we’ll tell him stories about the weeks where he happily obliged us with sweet naps and random babysitters as we tried to salvage his empire. We’ll laugh about how unaware he was of how scared we all were. We’ll describe how strange it was for all the people to go back into their homes and all the animals to start emerging from theirs. We’ll remember how surreal it all felt that life as we knew it had to stop because of an invisible killer. But most of all we’ll tell him about the kindness of strangers, like you, who lifted us out of the darkness of uncertainty so that we could have many more days of banter over beers in the future.
Because that’s what we signed up for.
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Slowly but surely you helped to breathe life back into the place. You filled it up with love and laughter. You have dragged it back from obscurity to place it back into the heart of the community.
Time to whip up a quick homemade soup with whatever veggies you’ve got in your fridge.
If you can get your hands on some flour, you’ll love making your very own bread.