Burnley Hospitality Hell: Anxious landlords planning for grand re-opening – but fear further lockdowns will ravage industry

‘If they shut us again then we are thinking of walking away.’
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Pub and bar owners in Burnley say they can’t go on opening and closing for another year if they are to have any chance of surviving.

It has been almost four months since some venues pulled their last pint, and with only speculation surrounding hospitaility re-opening dates, many are now demanding the immediate release of a definitive exit plan.

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The Express spoke to a selection of figures from within the industry who told us how they have been coping with lockdown.

Pubs in Burnley have been closed for four monthsPubs in Burnley have been closed for four months
Pubs in Burnley have been closed for four months

What do you miss most about being open?

Justine Lorriman (Royal Dyche) – I miss the people! I have a great team of staff and our regular customer base is like one big family. You get into a comfortable routine of seeing these people everyday.

I lose sleep thinking about them and hoping they’re all doing okay. I message most just to check in on them but seeing that they’re okay is what makes the big difference. I’m really excited for us all to be reunited when we re-open.

The matchday customers too, we had so many of the same faces in every game and had great banter together. I can’t wait to see all their faces and feel that game day buzz again!

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Michelle Naylor (Craven Heifer) – Gosh there is so much I miss. The people, the banter, the happy times, the sad times. Supporting people through hard times in their lives. I miss the staff. Meeting new people. Watching the young people of society develop, being able to sit and chat with them about the future.

You see them come in with their parents at 15/16 having a coke, in a blink of an eye they are in celebrating their 18th birthday.

I missed Christmas Day so much seeing families celebrate together.

Alison Leigh (Crooked Billet) – What we miss most about being open is all our customers, and our wonderful staff. We must see hundreds of people a week and we miss the banter and friendliness of them all; most of whom have become very good social friends of ours over the years.

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Gaz Ali (Remedy) – I miss the bar being open. Obviously, there is the financial implication but I found that I had a strong connection with my regulars, and I view the majority of them as friends. I enjoyed a good banter with them.

Remedy was a safe, lively environment with a diverse customer base where everyone was welcomed and had a good time.

Also, for single people it was a place they could come and not feel alone.

Do you think the pub/bar trade can survive another summer of disruption?

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Jaimie Hopwood (Thornton Arms) – The opening and shutting of this trade is seriously having a detrimental effect. If they open us up in May and then choose to shut us again, we are seriously thinking of walking away!

We have already had the conversation with our area manager of what our options are, as we have already lost a year’s worth of trading; never mind the stock we have had to dispose of.

JL – Survival would depend on each venue’s individual situation. I think the opening and closing with little notice hurts businesses even more. Stock goes out of date and supplies we invested in to keep everyone safe are wasted.

It just deflates you having to close again after you have re-opened and put so much time and effort into making your venue a safe place to visit.

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It’s not been easy and I was lucky to be in the financial situation I was and had reserves to depend on – but as I’ve found already, they don’t last forever.

More grants would be needed to survive another summer, but the ones given previously still aren’t enough to cover the business’ overheads. I can guarantee this will apply to many other venues in the industry too.

AL – We are really hoping that from Spring onwards it will be all systems go, and we can welcome back all our customers into the pub without further disruption.

I am aware of a few places already that will not be re-opening due to lack of financial help which is very sad.

Is the tier system the right approach to exiting lockdown?

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JH – The tier system is an absolute waste of time. People are at the point now that they are fed up of the ever-changing rules. You don’t know if you are coming or going, never mind trying to put them in place in pubs. I think it all comes down to people using their common sense.

MN – Yes. I know Burnley had been high on the list with Covid cases.

I don’t see why smaller, low-risk areas should be penalised for other areas’ behaviour or infection rates.

What I don’t think worked were some of the restrictions like table service etc.

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GA – My honest belief is the Government made a mess of how it handled the whole tier fiasco. We should have gone into full lockdown nationally, shut the borders and taken control of the situation.

The tier system doesn’t work, people are always going to take advantage of it.

Remember how people were travelling to Yorkshire and Liverpool for nights out. It was frustrating to see our venues closed and people travelling out for a night out.

Could the Government have done more to support the hospitality sector?

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AL – Yes, the Government should have done much more to help the hospitality sector. We were the ones that came out worse off.

In December, all the hairdressers, beauty and shops were open – not to mention bars, restaurants down South, too. We were the only ones here in the North that have been closed since early November.

We feel the Government must give more grants to help us out until spring or many other businesses will fall by the wayside, and not be able to sustain the next few months of outgoings.

The last few months’ help has been an insult, to be honest, to what we should have realistically earned over the Christmas period.

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JL – The industry definitely needs more funding, but any financial support we received from the Government was better than nothing.

We have to realise that there have been many individuals and businesses that have received very little support, with some getting nothing.

The Government could have saved us money so we didn’t have to depend on more from them by giving us more notice of closures.

This could have prevented us from losing stock and other supplies.

Will Burnley bounce back stronger?

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JL – Burnley will bounce back stronger. I think once an exit plan of lockdown is put in place you will see venues come alive.

Events will be put in place, live music will be back and more venues will be teaming up together and providing more for their communities.

That’s the benefit of being in a small town, we look after each other and support our local businesses.

We just need to keep focusing on the positives and the good times ahead to get through this.

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JH – I absolutely believe Burnley will bounce back from this.

Burnley people have proven in the past that they are a community that sticks together and helps each other out in the time of need.

AL – I think Burnley will bounce back, but not stronger. Many businesses have been affected by the hospitality sector being closed for such a long time, and many businesses in town have failed due to this.

Less people are in town now as we have been closed for so long and unfortunately people will get out of the habit of visiting pubs and eating places locally as they have been closed for months.

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GA – I can see very busy weekends when the Government allows us to open, but I don’t know what the future will bring. People’s drinking habits may change.

They have had over a year to think about other things instead of the weekend session. The economic factors may come into play with people losing their jobs etc.

I am being optimistic by saying that every weekend will be like a Bank Holiday Weekend, and we will be rammed, but at the back of my mind I’m wondering will people still be wary about the legacy that Covid has left behind.

MN – Burnley will bounce back but it will be slow. So many local industries have been impacted by the pandemic.

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Travel will have a big impact on jobs around Burnley as many people are employed in that industry, be it directly or indirectly.

It’s going to be a long hard road back.

What I do hope is people have come to realise just what having your freedom means; to do what you want. To have local pubs and shops, and not just take it for granted.

That people realise just what our ancestors fought for. Independence and having a choice.