Leicester lockdown: View from a landlord

Matt Eley

01 July 2020

Leicestershire landlord Stephen Ward talks to Imbibe about what it’s like to have everything in place for re-opening – including a cellar full of newly delivered cask beer – only to be told he can’t re-open for another two weeks

When the government announced a local lockdown for Leicester, following a spike in local cases, Stephen Ward’s plans to reopen the doors of his pub, the Harrow Inn in Thurmaston, to customers for the first time since March, were scuppered.

‘We are right on the edge of the boundary and cannot open, whereas over the road in Syston they can. There’s a pub 500 yards from us that will be opening. We have been told we are a buffer area.’

There’s a pub 500 yards from us that will be opening

Ward, who has owned the business for six years, had been working towards trading again shortly after 4 July, avoiding the first weekend. He had prepared with the installation of screens, by distancing tables, providing sanitisers and signage for customers, and investing in a new air ventilation system.

‘I thought it was a silly idea to open on the Saturday anyway and we were going to wait until the Monday. There are so many new processes for staff to learn and we didn’t want the extra pressure of there potentially being big crowds in on the Saturday.

‘As far as I am concerned it’s about life first and not about pounds, shillings and pence. My daughter and wife are part of the team and I wouldn’t want to place them, or anyone else, under any undue risk.’

As it is, the pub will not be able to open for at least another two weeks. Health secretary Matt Hancock said 10% off all positive cases in the last week were in Leicester and the government will not review the lockdown until 18 July. However, Ward believes the business should be able to survive the latest blow.

‘I am receiving so many messages on Facebook from customers saying they are desperate for us to open but when you look at the statistics for the area you can understand the lockdown extension, and it is possibly a good thing.

‘We have been very fortunate in the support we have received with all of the 18 staff being furloughed, the grant we have received and the support from suppliers. This has enabled us to keep going and we are not faring too badly.

‘I would rather open when we are confident customers will be safe. I think the business will bounce back but I don’t think it will be quick. We have a mixed client base and it seems the middle-aged ones are more wary about coming back than other age groups.’

The Harrow Inn specialises in traditional ales and gins. One problem the lockdown extension has created is what to do with cask beer sitting in the cellar.

‘It has just arrived and we are trying to see if the brewery will take it back,’ says Stephen. ‘One of the issues we had before the initial lockdown was that we had tapped casks ahead of Mother’s Day and these had to be poured away. We haven’t made that mistake this time and we are waiting to see if they can be returned.’

There was no such problem with leftover food stock back in March. The pub used it all to provide free meals to nurses at the local hospital.

The pub has also maintained links with the community by running a market stall in its car park at weekends and helping with deliveries to those shielding in the area.

‘The community spirit here has been absolutely incredible and I am hoping that community spirit will shine through when we reopen,’ he says.

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