Pub landlord devastated by COVID restrictions

THE landlord of Chobham’s new micropub is devasted at not being able to re-open at the end of the second coronavirus lockdown.

Rob Belcher was due to launch the Horse and Groom as the first lockdown began in March, but his plan had to be put on hold.

Micropub landlord Rob Belcher is devasted his pub the Horse and Groom will be unable to open at the end of the second coronavirus lockdown

He his wife Andrea opened the pub in High Street for the first time when restrictions were eased in July with strict coronavirus precautions – but are unable to serve customers under the latest rules.

Only pubs that provide “substantial meals” can open to drinkers in tier 2 areas, which includes the whole of Surrey. The Horse and Groom is a “wet trade” pub, selling only snacks such as crisps and nuts.

“We were told to shut for the second lockdown with a view to opening again on December 2nd,” said Rob. “We committed to spending money on making it a better pub, and ensuring we follow all the COVID rules, and now we have to stay shut.

“I just can’t understand the difference between someone drinking a pint with a bar meal and drinking a pint with a packet of crisps. We introduced table service, just like pub restaurants, so we are operating in exactly the same way as they are.

“Our customers have been following the rules, coming in wearing a mask, taking it off to drink and putting it back on to go to the toilet. We sanitise the tables when people leave, before new people come in, and everyone is being very careful.”

A railway style semaphore signal outside the pub, showing red or green, has been indicating whether there is room for a reduced number of customers.

The only financial help Rob has had from the Government is a COVID-19 loan, which he has used to help pay the rent on the property. Despite the pub’s expected takings being drastically reduced by the pandemic, he has invested in more beer pumps, to extend the range of real ales on offer.

“There has been no communication from the Government about how we are expected to operate under tier 2, nothing to say we must keep closed,” Rob added. “We only know what we have read in the papers and seen on TV.”

He is exploring whether the pub can open if customers bring their own food to eat with a drink. “Many people have already come in with pizzas and curries, and even ordered takeaways to be delivered to the pub,” he said. “Perhaps that will help us.”

The Horse and Groom is keeping its customers socialising through an online pub quiz, via Zoom, on Saturday evening. Participants can order takeaway cask ale and cheeseboards to be collected from the pub during the afternoon and enjoyed at home during the event.

For more details and to enter, see the Horse and Groom micropub Chobham page on Facebook.

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