Pubs vs Pandemic: An insight as pubs reopen in Ashton-Under-Lyne

A pint on a counter. Credits to: Pixabay

Since the lockdown started thousands of pubs closed nationwide as owners could not afford to keep them open, leaving almost 355,000 workers of the hospitality sector unemployed. For many, these businesses are their livelihood, and it had an impact on people that work around these places – not only financial, but psychological too.

Melody Kent, 22, is a pub worker at the Prince of Orange, in Ashton-Under-Lyne and she gave her views of the impact the lockdown was having on her mental health, and her customers’: “You’ve been sat down for so many months not doing anything. And you feel you need a purpose, need something to do when you get out of bed. Well, then actually coming back here is refreshing.”

“So many people have been locked away, not having any social interaction with anyone. You see it a lot with our older customers, they might be at home alone. So, when they come to the pub, it is the only time that they really have to talk to people. But again, it’s the same for younger people” she said.

Prince of Orange pub in Ashton-Under-Lyne. Credits: Ivan Monteiro

When pubs reopened on the 12th of April, footages of people queueing up outside were everywhere on the news. In Ashton-Under-Lyne was no different. The 22-year-old admitted that in the first couple of days people were overly excited with the fact of finally being allowed to have a brew outside, and it may have been overwhelming for the staff at times: “The first couple days, when pub’s reopened, it was full” as she confessed “I did wish sometimes when it was busy, I was back at home.”

All over Social Media, opinions were bursting with allegations that pub owners and workers were not doing enough to make customers comply with social distancing and to avoid mass gatherings. Melody Kent gave an insight of how hard it is to deal with customers during a pandemic: “There is a couple [of customers] who don’t want to comply, you have to constantly ask them to keep the mask on. And it can get annoying when it is not us who have put these restrictions in place. We just have to enforce them.”

“The rules are just not clear enough in terms of mask off at the table? mask on when you stand up? That is another thing customers complain about a lot, because they find it to be silly.”

Hospitality workers are one of the most affected groups, as their workplaces are still closed if they do not possess an outside space. It is widely known that people living on furlough are likely to struggle to pay their bills and so they looked for different options to generate income. The interviewee told how she survived while being away from work on a lower salary: “I have been on furlough, which hasn’t been too bad. And not having a lot to do, I did start an Etsy shop as well, which it was kind of a plus to lockdown.”

“Welcome back” sign at Woodman Inn pub in Ashton-Under-Lyne. Credits: Ivan Monteiro

At another local pub called Woodman Inn, Sharon Holt, 39, said she feels “good” for getting back to work and that it is “better than sitting at home”. But the pub worker also thinks that the lockdown had “a massive impact on people’s mental health” and that the customers “are all glad to be back together.”

She also affirmed that: “The first and second week [after pubs reopened] were brilliant in profit. The weather had been good on us.” But after that, it hasn’t been as busy, as she said: “It was just because it was a novelty, it’s getting steady.”

When questioned about how difficult it is to make the customers comply with the rules she convincingly said: “It is hard. Once they have had a couple of pints. A lot of customers argue. The first time we opened – and we were doing all the restrictions – we had to ask a couple of people to leave. They would not give us the name and number for track and trace, and they would not wear a mask.” These customers didn’t react well as she said: “Some of them would give a bit of abuse. It was not nice, but we had to do it.”

Much like Melody Kent, Sharon Holt struggled financially during the lockdown and had to find another part-time job: “I’ve been working on Farmfoods just for the lockdown to help out. And that kept me on” she said.

According to the roadmap presented by the government, after the 17th of May, most of the pubs will be allowing people to sit in, which can be profitable for pub owners. But according to pub workers in Ashton-Under-Lyne, the battle between financial and mental health against public health, promises to go on in the next month.