‘We’re hoping to get to Christmas’ – Landlord at one of York’s favourite pubs faces uncertain future

John Pybus was interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC News on Wednesday. Photograph: Screengrab
23 Sep 2020 @ 1.05 pm
| News

The small, cosy and very special Blue Bell pub in York was always going to be hit hard by social distancing measures.

But what was already a bad situation has become many times worse with the new restrictions on the licensed trade, including a 10pm curfew and mandatory table service.

And it means that the Fossgate pub, which only reopened three weeks ago, will be losing money hand over fist as it fights to survive.

Popular landlord John Pybus told Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Two this morning (Wednesday) how hard his business would be hit by the stricter conditions.

“It’s devastating news, to be honest. We have a capacity in the Blue Bell of 65 people,” he said.

“With the social distancing measures that capacity was reduced to 20 people. Over the last three weeks, we haven’t been able to turn a profit.

“We’ve been losing money every week, even though we’ve been filling the pub up to that 20 people.

“Now we’re taking away around about ten per cent of our service time and implementing the table service condition, it means we’re going to have to double our staff costs at a time when we’re not even making money.”

Another £700 a week

The cost of the extra staff adds up to another £700 a week, John said.

In the confines of the Blue Bell “there’s only about a two metre gap from the bar to the table.

“And so now we’re having to put a member of staff in between the bar and the table, which doesn’t seem to make much sense to us.”

He told Victoria he had taken out a loan to keep going.

“We hope we can get through this six months,” he said. “We just don’t really know what the trade is going to be like.

“We don’t know if as many people will be coming out to the pub.

“We’re hoping to get to Christmas and hopefully still be open. But it really is by the skin of our teeth at the moment.”

Lost forever

Landlord John Pybus outside his pub the Blue Bell

The loss of a pub is not just the end of a business – it also means the loss of a family’s home and of a community asset, he pointed out. But the odds are stacked against licensees.

“It is within the pub owning company’s interest to make as many tenants go bankrupt so they can sell the buildings on for accommodation and for retail purposes.

“So what we really do worry about here is that these measures are going to run more people into bankruptcy. And when we lose those pubs, we lose a part of our culture.

“And we’re going to lose that forever, which is a huge shame.”