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Stoneworks reopens: "Let's talk about tomorrow rather than yesterday"

After the nightmare that bars faced in 2020 and the first half of 2021 it was always to be expected that a few teething problems would arise upon their return.
The Stoneworks, 8A Church Street, Peterborough

The Stoneworks Bar in Church Street did not escape them when it reopened last week; staff had not been behind the bar in 15 months and a few minor issues were only to be expected.

In addition, a delivery driver who had not negotiated the entrance since the start of last year dropped a keg which took a chip out of one of the steps, needing the expertise of a builder.

But it's open and everyone is happy according to Sean Page, co-owner with business partner Steve Saldana - who has added something new with safety in mind.

Sean said: "Steve is a bit of a tech geek and he has installed two air scrubbers, one above the bar and one above the seating area. The air in the building is run over UVC light, which kills Covid.

"We don't have many windows in the bar so we couldn't just open them up for additional ventilation, which is one of the reasons we didn't do much last year in terms of opening. We didn't want to bring people in when we didn't feel it was safe.

"To combat this we have bought two scrubbers, and we are probably going to get a few more, because why wouldn't we if it keeps us all safer? Our main focus is safety and doing what we can to follow guidelines."

Staff at the bar, all of whom are now back, take regular lateral flow tests

As with many in the hospitality trade, the duo are leaving their drinkers to make their own decisions when it comes to masks, with Sean wary of "preaching" at those entering.

He said: "Some wear masks, some don't; some stand at the bar, some don't. We are not here to tell people how to live their lives.

"Our customers are adults. We are a community that just happens to congregate in a bar in Peterborough. We just want people to realise that, and be sensitive in their decision making.

"Our community is grown up and can be trusted to make sensible and adult decisions, they have shown this on many occasions over the last five years."

The duo made a conscious decision not to reopen on May 17, for fear that the use of an app to order beer rather than ordering at the bar would destroy the atmosphere.

Fast forward two months to July 19 - so-called Freedom Day - and the recent good weather has perhaps brought drinkers out who feared their favourite venues and a proper experience would never return.

In fact Sean said since the reopening several drinkers seemed to have stood silently on the steps at the entrance, almost pausing to take it all in again.

The bar, also won an award from which named The Stoneworks Bar as the best place for beer in Cambridgeshire, recently renewed its lease after finishing its initial five-year term.

It's no mean feat during a global pandemic that has crippled the trade, helped by a "bloody brilliant landlord", in Sean's words.

The building blocks were put in place long before Covid reared its ugly head, and Sean said: "When we first opened five years ago Steve had his views on drinking and hospitality and I had mine, and we had a clear vision.

"If people showed up we were happy, and if they didn't at least we could say we have stuck to our vision. That is how we have built up a core custom, and how we've become more than somewhere to drink.

"During the lockdown we had private messages asking us how individual members of staff were, and that's because our staff make connections with people.

"Yes they can talk about all the amazing drinks we sell, but the most important thing when taking people on as employees is seeing if they have the connection with drinkers. That doesn't have to mean deep or philosophical conversations, but it does mean friendly faces and creating somewhere that feels like home."

The bar has a number of events coming up, including a tap takeover with Orbit and The Kernel on July 30.

Work is currently ongoing behind the scenes with the BID (Business Improvement District), to see if and how Stoneworks can contribute to the city's Cafe Culture in years ahead.

Sean added: "The hospitality industry has taken a kicking and no-one could have seen what was going to happen.

"I have no comment on how things have been handled on the whole during Covid, but in some ways it's irrelevant now. We have to move on - let's talk about tomorrow rather than yesterday."