Covid A Year On: Closing time for pubs is set to come to an end

The Mermaid pub in St Albans.

The Mermaid pub in St Albans. - Credit: Roger Protz

The district's hospitality industry has endured unparalleled pressure over the past year, struggling to adjust to lockdowns and pandemic restrictions, introducing click and collect and food delivery services, and ultimately wondering whether their businesses would survive.

Coronavirus has seen the closure of many pubs for the first time in our history – a history stretching back hundreds of years, especially in a city like St Albans where we have some of the oldest hostelries in the country.

It is already a tough industry to thrive in, but there is hope - the Save St Albans Pubs Campaign has long been trying to push for more leniency in VAT, fairer business rates and more of a level playing field for the many independents in the area.

In addition, St Albans MP Daisy Cooper has been consistently championing local pubs and their place in our community, supporting the constant battle for their survival.

Looking back on when the pubs reopened for the first time after the initial lockdown, on Saturday July 4, it's possible to see that national media hype condemning Super Saturday as Stupid Saturday could not have been more wrong.

Feedback from the district council, police, publicans and customers suggested that we should all be proud of our city’s Super Saturday success. In fact, most pubs were quiet by 9pm. 

With all the worry and trepidation surrounding pubs reopening, it’s no surprise that St Albans pubs got the first day off to a positive start. Weeks of preparation and planning paid off thanks to landlords collaborating in an unprecedented fashion to develop the best strategy on how to open safely and how to make sure that staff, customers and the overall community felt confident about coming back to the pub.

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Daisy Cooper poured the first pint on the first Friday night at The White Lion, and said at the time: “What a great experience in The White Lion! The pub has revamped to be Covid-secure with every safety measure in place.

"From hand sanitiser to table track and trace details, these guys are going above and beyond to make sure all locals can enjoy summer safely. It’s great to meet friends in a safe and fun environment and it’s great to be back supporting our pubs.”

Daisy Cooper MP serving drinks in The White Lion after pubs reopened last year.

Daisy Cooper MP serving drinks in The White Lion after pubs reopened last year. - Credit: Save St Albans Pubs

Emma Parkhouse, landlady of The Great Northern, recalled: “I was a little nervous about reopening, especially when hearing the term Super Saturday repeatedly in the press. There were so many new rules that pubs had to enforce, and admittedly, I was anxious that some customers wouldn’t abide by them, especially after having a few drinks. However, our customers were very respectful and patient and just generally happy.” 

Jamie West, landlord of the Rose and Crown in Sandridge and Hare and Hounds on Sopwell Lane, said: “Like most pubs, we had nerves about re-opening, but we had decided that we would err on the side of caution and try and give our customers some confidence that they could enjoy a beer or a meal with us safely.

"We were absolutely delighted with the way people behaved – everyone respected the rules, everyone was understanding, the staff were absolutely brilliant, and everyone had a lovely day.” 

John Cusworth of The Mermaid added: "Each lockdown or tier thrown our way, every pub has had to constantly adapt due to a lack of consistency with any of the forced closures over past year.

"Takeaway, click and collect, deliveries. All these limitations came with no evidence that hospitality has had any effect on infection rates. Why we weren’t simply told to revert back to a takeaway service each time is beyond me. There was a common misconception that takeaway was open plastic pints for people to drink in the street or park. This was not true. All of our ales were sold in sealed containers."

With pubs once again looking forward to reopening, initially just outdoors, on April 12, they once again find themselves in the position of adapting to a new way of working, while hoping that things will finally return to normal by the summer.