'Use it or lose it' - Pub owner's fight to keep business alive

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Andy Simmonds of the Ploughman pub in Werrington

He is highlighting the struggles hospitality venues like himself have had to face due to the pandemic. But says, despite easing of the restrictions, things haven't been quick to pick up yet, and he will have to keep fighting to make sure his pub survives. 

To add to his worries, the closure of the Werrington centre across the road from him and a rise in alcohol costs are not helping. 

He said: “We were dealt a very heavy hand. People don’t want to go to pubs and hospitality venues.  

“On top of it, closure of the Werrington sports centre hasn’t done us any favours. I have managed to home a few groups – Werrington joggers is one that comes here but I don’t have the shower facilities they need here. 

“I have hung onto them but lost the trampoline groups, lost the badminton group, parents of the roller skating group – they used to use the pub regularly. 

“We have this side of the pub which is registered for community interests – we do a lot of fundraising activities here. Only this week I have agreed with the mayor to do a quiz night for his chosen charity. 

“Last November we did a small beer festival when we were allowed to open. We raised £2, 000 for the Heltwate school. I support them because they cared for my sister and gave her a standard of education and a bit of normality in her life, she had special needs.

“More recently, we did a Sue Ryder charity quiz and then again there was a guy who came in and did a fight for sight, his daughter has a rare eye condition – but both of them were very successful and raised well over £2,000. 

“So, it has been frustrating because I am a community pub. When we were asked to close on March 19 for the first time, we listened. 

“But then coming forward and getting back to some sort of normality has been a challenge. Boris Johnson took a massive gamble at Christmas by not shutting the country down. He said we need to learn to live with it. 

“But he told people to 'choose wisely' in how they spend Christmas, which was damaging for our business, He said don’t go to the pub and risk getting infected. There were no facts that suggests it spreads from hospitality sector. 

“People looked at the pub, walked past it but they won’t come in. They would peek in and say there are 20 people in there. I am not going in but holiday sales in shops were still  busy? 

“We constantly adapted, and became one of the safest places to be with all the social distancing measures in place. But still people are supporting us. 

“Look at the alcohol sales in lockdown – they peaked but we weren't allowed to do a take-away sale because we were not deemed safe. 

"Then they had the substantial meal saga, then you had to be seated and table service only. 

“Everything has been done instrumentally to affect the hospitality industry especially restaurants and pubs. We have been so badly hit and yet the government still thinks, giving us the small grant like that will help sustain my business.  

“I personally lost over £45,000 over the Christmas holiday period from cancelled events and parties.

“This is because government told them go to the pub or see your family. Some people hadn't seen their families for two years so what would they chose?  

“I fear for pubs, particularly in Werrington. Three local pubs here are up for lease. We have 17,500 people in Werrington village – why are they not supporting us? Are pubs finished? 

“To make things harder, big breweries have come in and put their prices up for us but not for the supermarkets. You can get six cans of beer for the price of a pint. 

“We host parties, birthdays, wakes, all sorts of things that people can’t do at home. With no support these pubs and venues will disappear and all you will be left with are the big chains – they won't organise charity events and raises money for a small organisation?  

"I fear for this pub particularity because it’s the only independent one. All the other pubs in the area have a backing of a big brewery behind it. And my landlord has demanded full rent all through the pandemic – they have been unreasonable. 

“I am a Werrington boy – We do our bit for the community. Yet I feel like I am being penalised, struggling to keep our heads above water. 

“The government announced for the first time we are giving back to the pubs – that doesn't come in till 2023? How's that going to help us now? 

“Can the government not see we are an industry in need of help? If they want us to be extinct then it will happen in the next 10 years. All you will be left with are the big corporate chains. Use it or lose it.” 

Covid passports – are you relieved for the business they weren't introduced? 

“For them to say I should be checking their Covid passports is not down to me. If people chose to get vaccinated it's down to them.

“Just like if people chose to drive fast on the motorway, it’s down to them - police can’t be on every street to monitor it. 

“I think it’s time to get on with life and get on with it. We can’t just sit back. Let’s not forget what happened but we need to move on now and I would say, cut the hospitality industry some slack. 

“We have a university opening – countdown is on. The only late-night bar in Peterborough has been demolished. We have the Rhythm Room open now. But there is such limited option for the young people because government has killed hospitality. Look at Lightbox – a community café – they are gone now. They should have been better supported. 

“I am worried for us and government has to support small business like us. I will keep fighting on for as long as I can. But I am doing everything we can to get the community back in. Use it or lose it. That's all I can say.” 

In August last year, team Ploughman was presented with 10 years in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide recognition award from Peterborough Beerfest organiser Mike Lane.

This now means that The Ploughman Werrington will be running for branch Pub of the Year.