Why we feel upbeat about the future of pubs

Mark and Becca Churchill run The Greendale Oak in Cuckney near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Like all British publicans, they’ve had one of the toughest 12 months in living memory. But what stands out when talking to the couple is their positivity about the future. The other thing that’s impossible to miss is their determination to build a business that’s even better than the one they had pre-Covid.

Mark says: “The lockdowns have been tough, especially the second. We’ve had some low moments, particularly in November and December when everything was so uncertain. But we now feel upbeat and energised about the future. We know there’ll be challenges but we’re ready for them.”

We’ll find out where their positivity comes from shortly.

The Greendale Oak is a village pub on the Welbeck Estate in north Nottinghamshire. Mark and Becca have run it for six years and are rightly proud of its food. However, they are also proud to run a ‘proper’ pub – a community hub that welcomes everyone, drinkers and diners. “We love being a village pub and having the relaxed atmosphere that only a pub has. But we also love to give our customers something special – excellent food, drink and service,” says Mark.

At every turn during this pandemic, The Greendale Oak team have remained positive and tried to deliver a special experience. They began by offering takeaways immediately after the first forced closure in March 2020. “Takeaways helped cashflow and meant we could resist payment breaks,” says Mark. “We wanted to carry on paying outgoings rather than kicking the can down the road and building up debt.”

They waited six weeks after the permitted summer reopening date before welcoming customers back, spending that time honing the customer experience. “We spoke with fellow Everards business owners and planned everything in detail. And when we finally reopened, customers loved it. Taking the extra prep time was worth it.”

As autumn arrived and winter started knocking, they hired a clear-top marquee with astroturf floor. They also installed dining pods. Overall, they invested £10,000.

But not long after setting those up, the tier system arrived, swiftly followed by the bombshell of Lockdown Two. “Suddenly, we realised we weren’t going to be open for Christmas. We employ 68 people across two sites [Mark and Becca also run The Millhouse in Worksop]. Telling our staff that we were closing again was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. We had no idea what the future held. It was bleak.”

Despite that pain and the other low moments that followed, Mark and Becca have always looked for positives. Mark says: “During this pandemic, we feel that the public have developed a new empathy for hospitality. Previously, our sector was generally regarded negatively. Media stories about pubs were usually bad. But the past year has flagged up how much everyone loves and needs pubs and restaurants. We all miss the pub, its atmosphere and the interaction it brings.”

And that’s one of the reasons why Mark and Becca are looking forward to reopening and driving the business forward. The enforced closure has allowed them to reassess why they do what they do, highlighting the joy of pubs and hospitality. It’s given them plenty of pain for sure, but also an exciting, powerful new motivation.

“The time away has given us space to think,” says Mark. “When we were busy, we were on the treadmill, so we didn’t have any bandwidth. But now we’ve had a chance to plan. We are refreshing our operation to give customers even more reasons to visit. People will want to see something a little different when they come back, so we’re going to offer new drinks styles, exciting new dishes, better service. We can’t wait to get going.”

Mark continues: “A big reason why we are able to feel positive is down to our business partners, Everards. Their approach to all this is how they approach everything: constantly in contact, always transparent, interested in you and your mental health, and more than fair financially. They did not defer rent payments but cancelled them during the beginning of the pandemic and have been very fair with all rent payments thereafter. That was a massive weight off our shoulders. Everyone is going to reopen with debt, but if we had rent debt too, that would be crushing. Above all that, they care.”

Thanks to strong support and a positive mindset, Mark and Becca are raring to go. The past 12 months may have delivered many painful moments, but as this duo will attest, you often learn more from the downs than you do from the ups. And because of that, motivation today has never been higher. 

The author:

Matt lives in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. He is passionate about the independent food & drink sector and founded Great Food Club in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town.