Business

Disastrous, unfair and a shame – how Devon is battling to cope with Tier 2 restrictions

Read more at www.devonlive.com

Devon was placed into Tier 2 Covid restrictions on December 2 – leaving many people reeling.

The ‘high-risk level’ restrictions mean that several rules, including those around how people can socialise and how businesses can operate, were tightened once again.

Following the announcement, in November, Anne Marie Morris Conservative MP for Newton Abbot released a statement stating that she had “ardently lobbied against further restrictions.” She also voiced concern that these restrictions will “have a further long-lasting and wide-ranging impacts on both the economy and non-Covid-19 physical and mental health outcomes.”

The Torbay Council leader, Steve Darling, also responded to the Government’s Tier 2 announcement with dismay describing pubs in Tier 2 as being like “lambs to the slaughter”.

Under Tier 2 restrictions hospitality venues must shut unless they serve food, and people can only buy alcohol if they are also consuming a ‘substantial meal.’ Last orders must be called at 10 pm, and customers have to leave the premises at 11 pm.

The restrictions have left that some pubs unable to open their doors at all while other businesses in Tier 2 have had to take a different tack to survive.

After a year of constant and ever-changing disruptions, and now approaching what would normally be the busiest time of year for many traders, DevonLive takes a look at some of those impacted by the current restrictions.

Brunswick Arms, Dawlish

Daniel Force the landlord of the Brunswick Arms

‘Asking your daily drinkers to have to buy food each time is unfair’

Known as ‘the friendly pub by the brook’ the Brunswick Arms is a Dawlish business with a loyal customer base, but this year has still been immensely challenging for them.

A combination of two lockdowns and a refit early in the year means that the pub has spent nearly six months of 2020 closed.

They have just reopened again, but like many places, it’s far from business as usual, with Tier 2 restrictions continuing to present the pub with challenges and uncertainty.

Landlord Daniel Force said: “It’s massively affecting the hospitality industry all over and in particular the pub trade. Christmas parties are a big source of income for a lot of restaurants at this time, so they are losing out on all that trade but can still open daily with the rules.

“Wet-led pubs just can’t open fully or at all as most customers just want to have a drink and not food as well. Some have opened but are riding the edge of the rules to keep as much drink flowing. We do a fair bit of food but are still a wet-led pub.”

Tier 2 restrictions mean the pub has had to take the difficult decision to reopen with temporarily reduced trading hours.

“We are only going to open for the weekend and only during lunch and evening meal times”, said Dan.

“With no indication of whether the tier levels will change at all next week, the next few weeks are very uncertain.

“I’ve had a lot of enquiries about Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing day as to what we will be doing, but I just have no idea on how it will work. People want to get together with all their friends at Christmas and have a Christmas drink in a pub, and it’s not looking likely that you’ll be able to do that.

“It’s just not viable to open all the time, asking your daily drinkers to have to buy food each time is unfair, and they just won’t come in.

“We thought we would try this weekend and we have a reasonable amount of people booked in but will have to wait to see if it’s been worthwhile turning everything back on for.”

Mulberry Tree Cafe, Exeter

‘It’s a shame because we do have a lot of socially vulnerable customers’

Another business impacted by the Tier 2 restrictions is the independently run Mulberry Tree Cafe which can be found in St David’s Exeter.

Alex Hibberd, has been running for six years leasing it from Exeter Community Centre, which often helps to provide him with customers.

The cafe is in the heart of the community, serving local people and those attending courses at the community centre, but also giving some people much-needed social interaction.

Alex said the Tier 2 restrictions have ‘greatly impacted’ his business, and that the biggest issue for him, are the restrictions placed upon people mixing from different households.

Tier 2 rules mean that people can only meet socially with friends and family indoors who they either live with or who they have formed a support bubble with – unless legal exemptions apply.

Due to his customer base, Alex said for him, this type of restriction and policing it means that opening the cafe as normal is “just not possible.”

He said: “It’s a shame because we do have a lot of socially vulnerable customers. But I understand from the point of view of keeping people safe.”

However, despite Alex appreciating the safety aspects of the announcement, Tier 2 restrictions still came as a blow to him. Alex said the cafe had returned to a place where it was “doing OK” but that now he’ll have to wait and see what happens with the restrictions.

Alex said he is now going to reassess the situation in January and hopes that he’ll then be able to reopen the cafe and return to some sense of normality.

But in the meantime, he has adapted what the cafe offers so that he can still reach and check-in with his community customers.

He said: “I have adapted and have been offering weekly meals which I deliver to the area. These are popular with those isolating or who struggle to get out for a home-cooked meal.

“It hasn’t replaced any kind of income – it’s mainly a service rather than any type of money maker. This is the sixth week of doing it now.”

Sally Henley town development manager for Newton Abbot

Sally Henley, Newton Abbot town centre development manager
Sally Henley, Newton Abbot town centre development manager

‘The impact of Covid legislation has been disastrous.’

Sally Henley said that although Newton Abbot “came out of lockdown with a bang” times are still particularly tough.

She said: “It was clear last Wednesday that there was a pent up demand as there was a steady but socially distanced stream of people, making their way into town – many of whom were clearly on a mission.

“Since then, plenty of shopping has been taking place, and it’s wonderful to see that shoppers have got the message that shopping locally is vital in order to preserve our high streets.

“Of course, no one was pleased to be in Tier 2, and there is no doubt that this has significantly impacted the hospitality industry – far more so than retail and the services. I think that the word ‘disastrous’ sums up the impact of the government Covid legislation upon the hospitality industry and in particular for wet-led pubs.

“Newton Abbot has a particularly vibrant evening economy and the legislation has been devastating not just for our many excellent wet-led pubs, but for any business for which the sale of alcohol is a key driver.”

She said she has been “particularly appalled at the derisory grants” the government is offering to businesses which have either been told to close “or for whom the legislation makes trading virtually impossible.”

“To offer a couple of thousand pounds to business owners who would usually be achieving sales in the tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds is frankly a disgrace.

“The impact upon those businesses which supply the hospitality industry, many of which are local has also been massive, and again, financial support from the Government has been negligible.

“Our pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants are vital to communities, and the impact upon the communities at not being able to meet each other is also pretty disastrous.

“I know that Newton Abbot businesses have invested heavily in making sure that their premises are safe and that they have appropriate systems in place to keep their customers safe. I am therefore so pleased that locals and visitors alike, are voting with their feet where they can and are coming into town to show their support for the small and large businesses which trade from the high street.”

The Blue Anchor, Teignmouth

The Pub of the Year 2019 winner was The Blue Anchor in Teignmouth. Pictured, from left to right, are Anneke Blackledge from Reach PLC, Adele Hearne and Luke Stewart who run the pub, plus Torbay Taxis’ Paul Le Huray and Sharon Storey

When the Tier 2 announcement for Devon was announced, the award-winning Blue Anchor pub in Teignmouth, took to their Facebook page to update their customers. While they said they weren’t surprised by the announcement and were understanding of the safety aspects of the restrictions, they were left “feeling pretty disheartened.”

As they don’t provide food, they are currently unable to open the pub as normal, despite Covid safety measures being in place.

However, they too have found a way to adapt and are currently providing takeaway beers and Christmas gifts and treats.

Quay Presents, Exeter

Quay Presents in Exeter has adapted to continue to serve customers

‘I don’t do negativity.’

On Exeter’s historic quayside Quay Presents can be found. The gift shop has been open for nine years and emphasises locally made products and supporting local craftspeople.

Although 2020 has been a challenging year for the independent business – especially as they were closed during their peak months of May and November – they have adapted to the current restrictions.

Claire Bliss has been running the shop for nine years and employs five members of staff.

Although Claire said she felt “a little bit of pressure to keep going” as many people rely on her, she is now managing to find the positives in the current situation and is discovering new ways to reach customers.

After many years of avoiding Facebook, Claire took a recommendation from a staff member to start a page for the shop – which has led to them gaining further customers. She has also been using WhatsApp to help people view her products online.

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Claire said: “I’m amazed at how the lovely customers have come forward. My gut feeling is people really do understand that it needs to be a ‘small shop Christmas’.

“I’m so grateful to all those lovely people who really do get it. Each small business ploughs money into their community.

“My customers come in, they’re grateful to come in, and I love them, and I love my job. I don’t do negativity.

“Everyone’s sanitised, and everyone is being careful. When the Government says close down, I totally agree with it.

“We’re a happy shop, and we look after our customers.”

As well as adapting how she runs the shop, Claire said she would also be safeguarding her business and her community against Covid-19 by having “a WhatsApp Christmas” this year rather than visiting family.

Businesses on Exeter quayside – including Claire’s – have also had to contend with works on the river’s flood defences over the years, but Claire feels positive that Quay Presents will continue to grow in the face of a Covid-19.

She said: “If I can survive three-and-a-half years of flood defence work and a pandemic, I can survive anything.”

Read more at www.devonlive.com

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