Covid Stories – The Craufurd Arms

We’ve been incredibly impressed with the way so many Co-ops and Community businesses have managed through the Covid-19 situation and lockdown. The commitment to serving their communities and the resilience and ingenuity they have shown has been amazing!

We’ve spoken to a number of our clients about how they have managed – here we share the story of community-owned pub The Craufurd Arms in Maidenhead after speaking to Mark Newcombe.

What was your immediate challenge?

The immediate challenge was to diversify and to bring some money into the pub – we have a pub manager who runs the pub on a day-to-day basis and as he was self-employed, we couldn’t furlough him. We’d also just taken on an assistant manager and another member of staff, who we couldn’t furlough as they had both joined so recently. So we took the decision that we’d roll up our sleeves and carry on – perhaps this was a bit naïve, but we didn’t know what was going to happen, or how local people would support us.

What did you do?

Pretty much the next day we got ourselves organised and set up a walk-through takeaway service and within a week we’d set up a delivery service as well. This was really valued by our patrons who were isolating or not comfortable going out. We had a socially distanced queueing system set up in the garden, leading to the back door. We moved a garage to create more room in the garden, too. We provided containers, or people could bring their own. We are a small urban pub and so we don’t get much passing trade – we didn’t have to worry about anyone congregating outside the pub or standing around in the road drinking.

Even though buying beers from us is more expensive than buying from the supermarket, we knew our patrons wanted to support us. Even so, although, as we were only running 2 hours a day and generating 30% of our usual sales, we were running at a loss. There was no way we could generate enough income to meet our fixed costs.

What support did you access, including from CCF?

We received a £10k small business grant, £25k from Power to Change, £6k from our own crowdfunding campaign, £2k from the Plunkett Foundation and a £50k bounce back loan. We used the government loan to pay off one of the loans we accessed through CCF and More Than A Pub, and we have the rest safely in the bank to help us through this difficult time until the trading restrictions are lifted.

Our customers, investors and supporters have responded amazingly well. Our original Crowdfunder appeal, in the first lockdown, raised £6k and the second one has reached our £4k target already – people can still donate to that if they’d like to support us.

Co-operative and Community Finance got in touch and offered the capital holiday straight away which was really good for us. It was great to be offered that and we took it and went onto interest-only payments.

What are you doing now?

At the moment we are not trading and probably won’t be until well into next year. We’re in Tier Two (subsequently moved to Tier Three on 19th Dec) and having looked at the books, even when we came out of lockdown and over the summer, we still weren’t making any money. Even with the good weather, the restrictions make it very difficult for a small pub like ours to turn a profit. We don’t get much passing trade and with social distancing it’s physically impossible to fit enough people into the pub. The evening curfew and table service made it hard, having to have more staff to do table service and then having to throw people out when they were having a nice time was tough. We did break even for two weeks, when there were a couple of big games at the start of the football season.

We’ve also installed a UVC sterilisation unit and a recent survey showed that over 80% of our customers said they felt safer in our pub knowing that it was there.

We’re also looking at food. We have got a kitchen and we had just started to do some food around Christmastime last year. There wasn’t a big take up – we’re a pub not a restaurant and always will be. It’s not possible, or the right thing, for us to adapt to become a restaurant, so we have taken the decision not to open and to ride it out – we’re hibernating during this period of uncertainty. We have informed our investors and loyal customers of our decision and fortunately, they are all happy with our reasons and will continue to support us until we can open again in the new year.

What are your plans moving forward?

We just want to get back to all that good pub stuff.

Through the pandemic, we’ve refurbished the pub, installed new flooring, and made the garden bigger. We’ve got a new cooker fan and hood, to help us with our thinking about food. We’re just looking forward to being a busy, sociable pub again.  We’d been successfully running for three years when this hit, we were just about to launch community lunches and had big sports events which would have been great – Euro 2020 and Olympics. We can’t wait to welcome people back!