THE Royal Oak pub in Knaphill has reopened after the coronavirus lockdown and used the nearly 15 weeks when it was closed to make several improvements.

Mark McDermott, who took over the pub at the bottom of Anchor Hill five years ago, has opened up parts of the large garden that were not being used and installed 11 new outdoor tables, giving a total of 28.

There is also a new large children’s play area and access to Waterers Park.

Government guidelines on pubs reopening during the pandemic mean that there is one entrance where customers give their names. There is a one-way system around the pub that leads into the garden and back into the pub.

There are automatic hand sanitisers at all entrances and exits and all the tables inside and out are spaced to allow customers to be socially distant.

There is a limited menu, all served in disposable containers, and a large range of drinks.

Mark had just taken a full delivery of beer when lockdown took place on 20 March and was told to send back all the unopened barrels, which meant he couldn’t offer a takeaway drinks service.

With lockdown expected to last for several months, all the portioned meals were likely to go past their use-by date with the pub still closed and so Mark provided around 120 free meals to local NHS workers.

“It was not the easiest of times,” Mark said. “There was no revenue and I still had to pay the majority of the bills.”

However, the pub has done so well since Mark took it over that there was enough in reserve to keep the business afloat and pay for the improvements.

“I doubled the takings when I took over and, before the lockdown, we were 28% up on the previous year. With the improvements, we will now do even better.”

The pub is dog-friendly and has a four-legged resident in Zeus, a five-year-old cross Labrador/bull mastiff who likes to play with visiting animals.

He plans to reintroduce monthly live music when restrictions are further eased and is hoping to expand the outdoor seating into the edge of Waterers Park. There are also facilities to provide mobile food and drink to local fairs and other events.

“It is, quite simply, a lively village-style pub,” he said.