Jim Parker: Torbay pub owner’s ‘we will be back’ vow

A van breakdown for Richard Molloy

A van breakdown for Richard Molloy - Credit: Archant

Responsible Richard may not be ready to re-open his pubs on July 4 but he vows 'we will be back'

So, it's fingers crossed that Torbay – or at least its biggest business sector of tourism and hospitality – will get the thumbs-up from the government to re-open on July 4.

Industry leaders have embarked on a campaign to press home the message that our own very own Independence Day won't happen at any cost.

They want to emphasise that everybody – visitors and, more importantly at this moment in time, the residents – can rest assured that the English Riviera is a 'Responsible 'Resort'.

Don't for one minute think that this is a return to normality or anywhere near it. The pandemic has made certain of that.

Take our pubs, for instance. Pubs who have relied on extra numbers coming through the doors by offering love music or live football matches on the box.

With two metres apart social distancing still a major weapon in keeping the monster virus at Bay, those extras won't be seen again for a long time. The smaller pubs may also find it nigh on impossible and, more to the point, not viable to operate under the two metre restrictions with less punters inside their bars and no beer gardens to fall back on.

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Richard Molloy is a director of White Rose Taverns which runs three pubs in South Devon – Molloys in St Marychurch and Teignmouth and the Railway in Newton Abbot.

The pubs were closed a day before the official shutdown was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson towards the end of March.

Thanks to an on-site brewery at the Railway, Richard is still able to brew and deliver beer mostly to his own customers. They were affectionately dubbed Devon Zombies Inc to reflect sorry-looking and listless people sadly wandering the streets waiting for the Molloy pubs to re-open – to use Richard's description.

He has become a one-man, white van man with his deliveries. It hasn't been plain sailing all the way after a recent breakdown on the A30 the other day will testify.

'We have our own brewery which helps. It has been just me with a van. It has gone very well. We got through 50 casks in May,' he says.

He says the re-opening of the trade is earmarked for July 4, but there was some talk of bringing it forward to June 22 for pubs who have big beer gardens.

But he says the two metre rule will not only affect numbers, it will also undermine what going to the pub is all about.

Social distancing will reduce the capacity in his pubs to around 20 per cent. If the pubs are full, they can usually accommodate 100 people so you can how numbers will be affected.

But Richard also adds: 'We have live music and customers watching live football matches. All that will not be possible.

'It would be a very strange experience. Pubs are places for social interaction. With social distancing it makes people less socially active. It will change the face of pubs for ever more.'

He reckons it is the bigger pub chains who in the background have been pressing for a re-opening because they can work on smaller profit margins.

He doubts if he will be ready for July 4 at his three pubs, but he says: 'It is an evolving situation. We are making decisions daily. I do not want to be all doom and gloom and I am trying to be optimistic.

'I doubt if we will re-open on July 4. We might have to delay.'

He was quick to add, though: 'These worries do not stop me looking forward to opening the doors again. We will be back; we will do whatever it takes to be great places to relax and escape the madness of the outside world again, and we will survive and react to whatever dangers come our way.'

It is what is called being responsible. A responsible business in a responsible resort welcoming responsible customers.

July 4 is a step in the right direction for an industry that just has to get going again. Or it may never will....