Introduction to Oct/Nov 2020 edition

Welcome to the fourth of our on-line editions of London Drinker. Let me immediately reaffirm our intention to return to paper editions as soon as we can but, sadly, that time has not yet come.

Pubs are continuing to reopen, although the revision of the ‘six people’ rule from 14 September may cause complications. This is covered on page 38. Research carried out by CAMRA has however indicated that 42% of pub-goers are visiting the pub less than they did before. Many pubs went out of their way to support their communities during lockdown by providing takeaway beer, running shops, providing meals for the vulnerable and staying available on-line to help fight loneliness and social isolation. Where possible, we should repay them with our support. If you are able to go back to your local please do so. Just because a pub has reopened does not mean that it has won the battle to survive; indeed, that might only just be starting. This especially applies to our priceless community pubs. If you are not yet ready, and that is a decision that should be respected, please try to source your beer from pubs and local breweries rather than the supermarket. You can find a list of breweries on the CAMRA Greater London Region website .

There was a thought provoking article in the Guardian on 10 September. Its basis was the anomalies that the COVID regulations have thrown up and how, as a consequence, the pub has become a political football. One example is the social media furore caused by pubs being allowed to open before gyms and swimming pools (a gap of three weeks). Another, which I have heard several times, is how someone can go to the pub with their partner but not be allowed to be present for medical appointments or even when the partner is giving birth. However sad that might be (and I’m not arguing that it isn’t), I’m sure that the authorities are treating each circumstance on its merits and the fault does not lie with the pub. It isn’t a question of one or the other. The argument, it seems to me, is that if some of us can’t do what we want – or need – to do, then why should others be allowed to enjoy themselves in the pub? Another general closure of pubs would simply be spitefulness towards pub goers. Are pubs a serious health risk? I’ve already reported on the guidelines for pubs and, when followed, they create what is now termed a COVID secure environment. They are certainly safer than the unlicensed and illegal ‘music events’ that have been occurring with alarming regularity. The hospitality industry is very important to the nation’s economy and it is this that the Government were (at last) acknowledging when they allowed pubs to reopen, not people’s right to drink. Certain newspapers have a habit of illustrating their coverage of pubs with photos of the likes of Nigel Farage or Tim Martin. This is not about libertarianism; it is about ordinary people getting on with their lives at a difficult time in the safe and secure venues of their choice.

On other pages, regular contributors Christine and John Cryne and Clive Taylor have been taking a look at what is happening to our pubs, both in and out of town, and their contributions make for an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ exercise. Regular correspondent Colin Price reported that in Romford at the end of July most pubs had reopened but many were operating reduced hours, closing at 9pm or 10pm Sunday to Thursday.

Early on, I was receiving reports that the range of beers being provided by a number of pub companies had been drastically reduced but the situation appears to be getting better. To be fair, when you don’t know what level of trade you will have, it does makes sense for pub owning breweries not to bring in beers from outside. Their priority must be survival, even if it is at the, hopefully, short term expense of customer choice.

Inevitably this will have an effect on a number of our smaller brewers. Many of them are continuing to offer a take-away service but, long term, this is not going to help, especially with people beginning to slowly drift back to drinking in pubs rather than at home. Breweries did not receive the same level of assistance from the Government as did other parts of the hospitality trade and some are under a new threat from the proposed reform of the Small Brewers’ Duty Relief scheme.

Meanwhile Geoff Strawbridge, our Regional Director, has been on his bike, visiting Greater London’s Pubs of the Year to see how they are getting on. It makes for encouraging reading.

You can find out who has won the John Young Memorial Award for 2020 and it is a wonderful story.

Finally, as I write this the day after the Last Night of the Proms, I can report that the bounds of London Drinker are being set wider and wider, with this edition’s crossword winner coming from Jerusalem!
Tony Hedger