The Brave new world, returning to the pub post-lockdown
The Bar Man column, by Jeff Hoyle (West Norfolk CAMRA), Friday, July 31, 2020
Things can change quickly. One day we are on the other side of the world, literally as far away from home as it is possible to be, and not much than a day later we are back, locked down in our house.
Since that day at the start of April our horizons have shrunk to walking distance. The car has been pretty much confined to ‘click and collect’ trips and hasn’t required petrol since the middle of February and I think that I have made fleeting visits to four shops in the last four months.
However, things are starting to return to something resembling normality with the gradual reopening of the leisure sector. For some, this meant a night of celebration down the pub, but we have been more circumspect and it seemed like a red letter day when we had a cup of coffee and a delicious custard tart outside Christina’s on Tower Street.
Then came a real outing with a visit to the nursery at West Acre for the Bar Wife to buy some plants to replace all the weeds and bits of tree that I have removed from the garden over the last few months.
Once again we risked a coffee on the outdoor tables at closing time. In some ways it seems like the lock down is as much mental as physical, and while it seems clear that they are a good thing, the sight of so many people in masks reinforces the impression that it might be dangerous out there.
Still, we had agreed to deliver the certificate to the Kings Arms at Shouldham, winner of the West Norfolk Pub of the Year, so we set off on what now feels like a great adventure to catch landlord Ian before the pub opened in order to perform the handover and take a few socially distanced pictures.
The operation they are running is deeply impressive, with all food and drink delivered and consumed outside.
There is a large gazebo, a one-way system, lots of hand sanitiser and temporary toilets in the car park. A tent on the village green provides overflow capacity.
Just as their new smart kitchen extension has been completed, their whole way of working has had to be changed, for example the 120 meals they prepare for the local school each day now have to be individual-packed lunches.
We took a walk around the Warren instead of staying for a beer, but our visit did demonstrate that with the right procedures in place, pub going could once again be a safe and pleasurable experience. However, at the Kings Arms they are fortunate to have a sizeable outside space and the possibility to overflow onto the green.
Other pubs and restaurants in the area are not so lucky, especially in the towns. What could be done to improve the situation? We may not be the first to think of this, but would it be possible to allow, for example The Nip and Growler to have some tables on the Tuesday Market Place?
What about a temporary toilet block that could be used by all the pubs and restaurants on the East side of the square? Maybe even a few tents to provide some cover when it rains? Would mobile food stalls work, even if just for weekends?
It is to be hoped that Boris is correct and that we will be back to some kind of normality by Christmas, but until then perhaps we need to be innovative in the way that businesses are supported and help break those mental chains.