Ancient pub poised to cut workforce amid crisis
PUBLISHED: 16:58 11 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:58 11 August 2020
One of Suffolk’s most traditional and best-loved country pubs fears it may lose more than half its staff as new coronavirus distancing rules take their toll.
When lockdown was announced in March, the eight-strong workforce at The Low House in Laxfield, near Eye, was put on furlough.
Three were brought back after restrictions were lifted in July but pub owners fear that five more jobs – one full-time – will be lost as a result of the crisis.
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Director Tim Woolnough is part of a community committee which took over the ancient pub in 2018 after forming a Community Interest Company (CIC).
The award-winning venue is famed for its traditional singers who turn up to sing ancient ballads – and its lack of a bar. It also hosts other musical and poetry events.
But its cosy and intimate layout doesn’t suit distancing rules.
Three festivals planned for this year - including a literary festival – had to be cancelled as a result of the crisis, further hitting the pub’s bottom line.
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Luckily, the weather has been “amazing”, said Mr Woolnough, but that would come to an end at some point.
Affected workers had been put on notice of redundancy – unless the outlook changes for the better. “We are extremely worried for those five,” he said. “It’s very sad for us but we are not going to be the only ones.”
The pub has cut its hours of opening and reduced its opening days to four in a bid to stay viable – but patrons are now being led to its spacious beer garden by CIC volunteers and committee members rather than drinking inside in order to comply with the new coronavirus crisis rules. A marquee has been put up and orders are brought outside from the tap room and they are working on a viable plan for the colder months.
“At the moment we are fine. We have got a big beer garden but as we are getting towards the autumn we are thinking: ‘How are we going to keep going?’” he said. “When we get to October it’s going to be a real struggle.”
Custom has been buoyed by staycationers from two nearby campsites filled to capacity amid the crisis, he said.
“We reopened on July 4 and it’s been pretty good,” he said. But meeting strangers was the “essence of the place”, he added, and it would be sad to see that go.
“We are the Good Pub Guide Unspoilt Pub of the Year 2020, so perspex sheets inside is not an option.”
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