Knead Pubs owner calls for businesses in Stamford like his pubs Crown Hotel and Tobie Norris to adopt cafe culture to stop coronavirus killing economy
Businesses should work together to boost town centres and stop coronavirus killing the economy, according to pub-owner Michael Thurlby.
With businesses in Stamford, Bourne and Oakham, Michael believes it takes a range of shops, visitor attractions, and places to eat and drink to draw people into a town, and each element can’t survive on its own.
“We need everything open,” he said. “We need the clothes shops open, we need the car parks in action, and we need visitor attractions such as Burghley House to reopen.We need all this so that people feel it’s worthwhile coming in to town for a day out.”
Michael’s Knead Pubs chain includes The Crown Hotel, The Tobie Norris and Paten and Co in Stamford, Jubilee Garage and Smith’s in Bourne, and The Lord Nelson in Oakham.
He and his wife, Sophie, are pleased Rutland Water has reopened, but believe the local economy won’t get the shot in the arm it needs until events like Rutland Water’s Birdfair, Burghley’s Battle Proms and Classic Ibiza start to take place again.
In the meantime, they are keen for all local businesses - working with the town and district councils - to do their bit towards revitalising the ‘visitor economy’.
Michael said: “We reopened three of the pubs and The Crown on July 4, and our other three pubs this week. It was a strange decision by the Government, to let pubs reopen on a Saturday, and while there were no prizes for opening first, having waited months we were keen to get the show on the road.”
Michael took out a £300,000 loan during lockdown to pay Knead Pubs’ outgoings while there was no income from the business.
“We still had to pay our suppliers in March,” said Michael. “It was Mothering Sunday weekend and we had taken the chance that pubs would have to close after that. As it was, the announcement came and everyone was told to close on the Friday, leaving us with full fridges and cellars.”
All Knead Pubs staff were furloughed, except for the person responsible for the accounts and wages.
Having come through lockdown, Michael is optimistic about the future and keen to embrace the opportunity to get business back on its feet.
He also believes a more progressive and flexible approach is needed for businesses to adapt.
“The town needs to work together to draw more people in, and this might mean making some changes,” he said. “For example, Red Lion Square in Stamford could have a terrace for people to sit out to eat or drink. If it’s done properly and imaginatively it would make the square a place people want to stop and spend time.”
Michael is applying for a ‘pavement licence’ to allow him to put out tables and chairs in Crown Street, which he wants to clean up and transform with hanging baskets and flowers. He accepts the road needs to be open for access in the mornings, but from midday he feels it could become a pleasant outdoor area between The Crown Hotel and Paten and Co.
“Early indications suggest there is an appetite for sitting outdoors at the moment, which is understandable,” he said.
He appealed to other businesses in Stamford to think of what they could do to make the most of this opportunity.
Central Café, in Red Lion Square, is in the process of applying to use some of the pavement space in the square for outdoor seating.
Similarly, Mick Purvis, landlord of the Golden Fleece in Sheep Market, Stamford, has just applied to extend his outdoor seating area at the front of the pub. He agrees businesses should work more closely and pubs, in particular, should stop competing and support one another.
“From our point of view we work very closely with the police and the council but that’s about it; there’s certainly a lot more that we could all be doing,” he said.
Mick suggested a “transfer scheme” whereby all businesses could point customers in each other’s direction, depending on what they were looking for.
“For example, we don’t mind helping out B&B owners if they recommend our pub to their guests,” said Mick.
He said opening up areas such as Red Lion Square for the benefit of multiple businesses would create a ‘continental’ feel that would prove a hit with visitors.
“There are definitely things like that we could do more of. The trouble at the moment is that it’s very competitive and businesses aren’t trying to work with each other. Instead of trying to compete so much we should work together to help each other.”
Seema Khanna, who runs The Stamford Pantry in High Street, said they had worked with the council to add another table outside their premises, and had come up with new ideas to fit in with people’s new attitudes to ‘grabbing a bite to eat’.
“We’re now providing everything on the menu as a takeaway option, so that people can go to sit outside,” she added.