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Canterbury bar owners ready to reopen when coronavirus lockdown restrictions eased

When the coronavirus crisis called time on nightlife in Kent, it led to the complete shutdown of one of the county's most vibrant business sectors.

But now, with shops gearing up to reopen on June 15, pub and bar owners in Canterbury are hoping they can follow suit in July.

Steve Allen runs The Pound in Canterbury
Steve Allen runs The Pound in Canterbury

The prospect of welcoming back customers in such traditionally close environments, while maintaining two-metre social distancing, is, however, forcing venue owners to examine a whole new way of operating.

And they are still waiting for specific guidelines from the government on exactly how it must work.

But bosses are already drawing up plans to make their premises safe for staff and customers, which will include screened-off seated-only areas, table service, no standing at the bar and hand sanitisers and scrupulous cleaning regimes.

Steve Allen, who runs The Pound, believes it will be easier for larger venues like his.

And he says the business, whose staff are furloughed, has already spent thousands having custom-made screens manufactured.

“I think we have quite a unique venue with areas like the old police cells which will make it easier to keep different groups apart,” he said.

“We also have the outside terrace where that will be possible as well.”

Mr Allen is optimistic about reopening the venue and says he has had lots of comments on social media from regulars eager to come back.

“I think everyone wants to return to some sort of normality and our customers say they are keen to come back as soon as we reopen,” he said.

“But we will have to be vigilant in how it is managed and it will be up to everyone to act responsibly.”

Canterbury pub magnate Charles Smythe
Canterbury pub magnate Charles Smythe

Charles Smythe runs five city centre pubs and says he has taken advantage of the closure to refurbish them for when they reopen.

He oversees the Dolphin, the Thomas Becket, the Black Griffin, the Seven Stars and the Old City Bar.

“I would have lost money if I shut them during normal times for the work, so it made sense to do it while we had to close,” he said.

He hopes to initially reopen the largest, especially the ones with pub gardens, again with social-distancing measures and table service. But pubs such as the Thomas Becket, which is much smaller, could prove more problematic.

“The closures have been costly because I have still had to pay rent despite not having any income,” he said.

“I think there is a demand for people to go back to pubs to socialise and feel normal again but it will just have to be done in a more controlled way.”

“I have been completing an 18-page risk assessment for each business, which is obviously quite onerous but it’s important to ensure both staff and customers are safe.

“But because of the need to have table service and somebody on the door to monitor the numbers coming in, it will be more expensive to operate.

“I reckon takings will be down from the usual by around 50% but I have a plan to break even over the next six months.”

He added: “I think there is a demand for people to go back to pubs to socialise and feel normal again but it will just have to be done in a more controlled way.”

Beers lovers have already been able to enjoy a draught pint from the Foundry Brew Pub in Stour Street, which launched a takeaway service last week.

As well as the business’s renowned ales, it also crafts spirits which are available too.

It has also been using its technology to manufacturer hand sanitisers to WHO standards, which it is supplying to local businesses.

Today, the Times has reported the easing of lockdown rules expected to be unveiled this week after the PM was warned 3.5 million jobs are at stake in the hospitality sector if they don't start to ease lockdown.

This includes relaxingplanning controls to allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to use outside areas.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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