Jim Parker: Pubs like the Queens Arms are so vital to the community

Queens Arms landlord Chris Simmonds (right) accepts the award from South Devon CAMRA chairman Bob So

Queens Arms landlord Chris Simmonds (right) accepts the award from South Devon CAMRA chairman Bob Southwell in a suitably masked and distanced ceremony. - Credit: Archant

It is great to see a good old-fashioned pub making the headlines. The Queens Arms in Brixham has been named CAMRA’s South Devon Pub of the Year.

It is the third time the pub has landed the prestigious award and is testament to the marvellous job done by landlord Chris Simmonds.

This all took me back to my younger days and much-cherished locals that made Christmas in particular extra special.

Christmas with the family was in what was then a vibrant Hele village with the Royal Standard pub, RAOB ‘Buff’ Club and Conservative Club all well-established and at the heart of the community.

I used to love Boxing Day at Aunt Jen’s and the annual ritual of the men going across to the Little Albert for an early-evening tipple.

And New Year’s Eve in the village will live in my heart for ever as the villagers emerged from all three hostelries to stop the traffic dead and unite to sing Auld Lang Syne.

Sadly, the Buff club went years ago to make way for residential. The Standard is now flats. And the Con club is just hanging in there.

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Pubs like the Queens Arms are so vital to the community.

But how much longer can these businesses survive?

The Queens is closed again due to the pandemic. Chris sees little point in reopening at the moment despite some restrictions being lifted.

He is making ends meet with some part time work as a delivery driver for a local seafood company. As we spoke. he was on his way to Heathrow with a consignment of crabs destined for China.

Chris says the pub is an old-fashioned local although he says: “We get lots of holidaymakers during the summer. I find that a little strange as I thought people came down here for boats and harbours.

“People seem to find us. They visit us two or three times during the week. We have some amazing reviews on Trip Advisor.”

Chris, 53 next week, has been landlord for 10 years and runs the pub by himself.

He was chairman of the port’s Royal British Legion Club for three years but sadly that was to close after he left.

When he first came to Brixham he worked on the moorings and as a diver with well-known local character Tony Ridd.

The pub usually stages an annual beer festival to raise money for local charities. That was replaced this year by an online beer auction which has so far raised £1,100 for the appeal for the Joanna C boat tragedy.

That is what community pubs like the Queens are all about.

But as it is now it has closed for four weeks with only a takeaway service.

Chris says: “The problem is you don’t really know what you can and can’t do. Even the police and licensing are struggling as to what is the right thing to do.”

He added: “We are holding on for the moment but it is dropping fast. It is difficult to say how long it will go on for.

“Psychologically I am always a strong character but I am struggling a little bit.”

He has a ‘this is our pub; there is no me’ ethos. “You are made to feel welcome straight away.”

He adds: “I like traditional values. Community pubs are just needed.”

I will raise a glass to that!