Bury St Edmunds: Celebration and warning as pubs, restaurants and cinemas respond to Boris Johnson's relaxation of lockdown
A dramatic easing of lockdown rules has been embraced by pub and restaurant owners, but experts have warned the ‘financial disaster’ of Covid-19 could take years to recover from.
Last week Bury St Edmunds saw its greatest footfall since lockdown began, but the number of shoppers was still 40 per cent down from last year. And despite Boris Johnson announcing a number of easing measures, which will also see cinemas allowed to open and households able to mingle from July 4, social distancing regulations will limit the number of customers.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Bury’s Business Improvement District, said: “It is great to think pubs and restaurants can return, but the next few months is not about growth, or even profits, it’s about survival. I am confident the majority of customers will return, but maybe not immediately.”
The Prime Minister’s ‘one metre-plus’ approach will appease those, such as Greene King chief executive Nick Mackenzie, who warned pubs and restaurants would not be financially viable under the 2m rule.
After the announcement on Tuesday, Mr Mackenzie said: “It is a welcome relief for pub operators, our team members who want to get back to work, and our customers who have been missing their local.
“We now urgently need the detailed government guidelines so that we can check we have the correct measures in place to reopen safely for our team members and customers.”
Heather Warren, co-founder of Bury pub Oakes Barn, said: “It is great news, particularly for us as a smaller venue.
“We believe the only way for safe social distancing to be effective is for it to be self-governing and both staff and customers to be respectful of other people’s space.”
Fon Khamwijitraporn, of The Old Cannon Brewery, has been busy during lockdown and said she was not expecting indoor restrictions to lift so soon. She will now help equip the Bury restaurant and hotel with protective measures. “We are in a relatively good place and have sold more than 1,200 take away pints during lockdown,” she added.
Reopening on Friday, July 10, Abbeygate Cinema is kicking off with a selection of popular films from recent years and audience requests, as well as Screen Arts highlights, before new releases become available.
But one business that will not be immediately returning is Britain’s smallest pub, The Nutshell. Joint tenant Geoff Page said: “The size is the USP, and that is the reason why it will not be feasible.” He is currently in talks with West Suffolk Council as to whether it will be possible to have tables outside – something which regulations have stopped for much of the past 30 years.
Hotels, museums and galleries can open while hairdressers have already been taking bookings. Live singing is still restricted, but churches and other places of worship can reopen for services and weddings.
The Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, said: “We are encouraging a cautious reopening process, while continuing some of the valuable online worship for those who do not wish to gather in a church building.”
Whether each business opens will depend if the new restrictions make it feasible to make a profit.
Nail bars, indoor gyms, swimming pools and bowling alleys will all remain closed beyond July 4, as will night clubs and tattoo parlours.
Mr Cordell said he was aware of how businesses might struggle after ‘practically no income’ for months.
He said: “Whether each business opens will depend if the new restrictions make it feasible to make a profit. My advice would be if you are not sure, don’t open until you are.
“Most have still had their outgoings to pay so this has been a financial disaster and will take months maybe even years to overcome. But opening up is a start.”
He added: “The businesses and the town need to demonstrate it is a safe place to visit to regain their confidence. The community in and around Bury has traditionally been supportive to independents and fingers crossed that continues.”
The business improvement district has contacted West Suffolk Council to make the case of four town centre businesses.
The One Bull, The Tavern and The Masons Arms pubs, as well as language school BLS English, all missed government financial support as their property rateable values all exceeded the £51,000 limit.
Roxane Marjoram, of the Gusto Pronto group, said The One Bull and two other pubs they manage have all missed out on £25,000 worth of aid.
She said: “There are pubs of a similar size that would have received it. But we have not had any lesser overheads and it has been tough."
A council spokesperson said: “The Government announced grant funding for small businesses and retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in March 2020. This applied to businesses with premises with rateable values of less than £15,000 or £51, 000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.
"Unfortunately, this excluded premises with higher business rates, or businesses who were not categorised by the Government as retail, hospitality and leisure so we have continued to lobby the Government to support these kinds of businesses, who we know have faced considerable difficulties.
"Following lobbying by the Council and others, the Government announced further grant funding on 1 May for businesses, and asked councils to prioritise businesses in shared premises, market traders, bed and breakfasts and charities. The amount of money that was allocated to West Suffolk Council under this scheme was significantly smaller than the previous schemes – at just £1.9million.
"We have already paid out close to £1.2million of this allocation. The money is finite and when it has gone it has gone. We have calculated how many businesses in each category we believe are eligible for these grants. Although these grants have been called discretionary by the Government, at West Suffolk Council, we do not expect to have any level of discretion left once these payments have been made.
"The Council is continuing to support and provide advice to businesses who have been impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak and the restrictions in place.”
More by this authorWilliam Mata
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