Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown leaves Bishop's Stortford publicans 'excited' to reopen on Monday
A new wave of optimism is sweeping over publicans in Bishop's Stortford as they prepare to reopen to customers in beer gardens – although one says support for small pubs will be vital.
Hospitality venues have been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdowns, with closures throughout the past year prompting fears nationally of hundreds of venues shutting for good.
Aaron Fennell, licensee of The Marne Inn at Thorley Park in Stortford and The Crown in Elsenham, admitted it had been a challenging time, but said he was feeling positive following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement of the 'roadmap' out of lockdown.
The PM confirmed on Monday (April 5) that pubs can open their beer gardens from Monday (April 12), with customers restricted to the rule of six and instructed to remain seated. From May 17, hospitality venues will be able to reopen their indoor areas.
"There's light at the end of the tunnel," said Aaron. "There's clear mapping this time."
He has expanded his outdoor areas at The Marne to tie in with the restrictions. He has scope for 260 customers outside, with a new family area and seating in the yard with street food vans adding to a 100-capacity tent.
Although Aaron suffered setbacks when The Crown was broken into and had £1,000 worth of meat stolen, he said his brewery had been very supportive with the rent and Government grants had been helpful. He was firm in his opposition to a vaccination passport scheme though, which had been suggested.
Some of the other publicans in the town had been in contact with Aaron and he said many had adjusted their outdoor areas and were good to go.
Michelle Brace, licensee at The Wheatsheaf, Northgate End, has been continuing to provide a Sunday roast takeaway service and free meals for needy families throughout the lockdowns, but said she could not wait to reopen the pub.
"We're just hoping for nice weather," said Michelle, who admitted she had been "walking a very fine line between viable and losing money" and that support for her takeaway Sunday roasts had kept the pub going.
In a Facebook post she appealed to people to support local pubs: "We have a (less impressive) outside capacity of 38 in bad weather and a more reasonable capacity of 50 in good weather. So whilst we do our bit to keep you all safe and well lubricated, we ask you to please do your part too to save local pubs.
"If you know of a pub with a tiny beer garden, take your chance on that one first before heading to the one with 200 seats, because although we're all very excited to reopen... this is only the start of an uphill battle."
Adam Curtis, chairman of Bishop's Stortford Pubwatch and licensee of The Cock Inn at Hockerill, also had a positive outlook but said the weather would play its part.
"It's geared around the great British summer – it's out of our hands," he said. He felt people might be wary initially about going back to pubs and reminded regulars there would be restrictions.
All of the local pubs owned by Hertford brewer and pub chain McMullen will reopen. Joint managing director Heydon Mizon said: "The team has all been briefed and have been retraining. The brewery is waking up to brew, food orders are going in and the sun will shine – well, we hope it will!"
He added that punters at the company's pubs – the Nags Head in Dunmow Road, the Dog's Head in Market Square, Coach and Horses in Thorley Street, all Bishop's Stortford, and Sawbridgeworth duo the Orange Tree in West Road and the George IV in Knight Street – would be allowed to use the facilities and pay indoors, but masks must be worn when not seated.