ON Friday March 20, as the death toll from COVID-19 passed 150 in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that all pubs, cafes and restaurants in the UK must close at the earliest opportunity - basically that day. And they must not reopen the next day.
His announcement came just a few days after he had advised the UK public to avoid all of these places anyway. That earlier message left millions confused - if those places were allowed to stay open, while people were being told to avoid them, what was the point of them being open at all?
“Maybe they were just stalling for time to see the economic impact – or maybe they were just not on the ball with their advice,” says Terry May, owner of Bernie Mays, a bar and hotel on County Road in Walton. “I will leave people to make up their own minds.”
“But when the order came to close it hit us hard. With it being a Friday we had stocked up for a busy weekend, so obviously all that stock will reach its best before date before we get to open again. And that will put even more strain on already struggling independent bars and restaurant.
“Then there was Mothers’ Day, Aintree’s Grand National race meeting, the football – all of them are a massive loss to us. We rely on them to boost our takings, so we can carry on throughout the rest of the year.
“The bottom really dropped out of the hotel business – with the cancellation of the football and Aintree. This will all add up to a loss on turnover of a minimum of 30,000.”
But, despite the closure of the pub and hotel, Terry is still in contact with many of his regulars and the local community around Bernie Mays.
“Then there was Mothers’ Day, Aintree’s Grand National race meeting, the football - all of them are a massive loss to us. We rely on them to boost our takings, so we can carry on throughout the rest of the year.“The bottom really dropped out of the hotel business - with the cancellation of the football and Aintree. This will all add up to a loss on turnover of a minimum of 30,000.”
“One of our locals set up a group Messenger online,” he explains. “So we all check in every night as if we’re open, and have the same conversations and banter. It’s typical pub banter but a nice gesture, and it keeps people talking.
“There’s also offers of help and people asking if anybody has seen such and such a person. That leads to someone checking in with info. It’s amazing – and all this happened organically by the regulars themselves.”
Terry adds: “We also have a work Whatsapp group where we continually check in each day, with lots more banter. Support and encouragement are really needed as this is such a tough time for a lot of people with anxiety – including myself. So it’s important we look out for each other.”
He has also been impressed with the community’s response to the crisis.
“As usual, local people have been amazing. I put out a little call to sponsor a bag of food and we raised £800! I was planning on getting volunteers together – but having to self isolate myself, and the rapid change on social distancing advice, meant it was not wise to put people at risk. So I handed the majority of the donation to Everton in the Community and the rest to L6 Centre.”
“I have seen a lot of community support and praise. Even the hardest of opponents previously are applauding the work of others and collaborating with them. People are seeing the big picture (well most are).
Shop collection from Terry May
“Even football rivalry is having a break – that’s not the important stuff at the minute.”
Terry, who is also a Governor of Alsop School, is equally impressed by the work that the school is doing to support their community.
“Alsop has been amazing to be honest,” he says. “They’re ensuring food is going out to the kids and offering lots of support. I am having a governors’ meeting today – online via Zoom.”
An email sent to Terry by Chris Wilson, head of Alsop, highlights some of the ways in which the school has been actively supporting the community:
- 450 food drop-offs for Free School Meals students when the school closed
- 100 food hampers delivered weekly to families most at risk, with the support of local charities
- Online counselling for students who are struggling
- Form tutor phone calls to families and students to check they are OK
- Making Happy Birthday phone calls to students who are celebrating their big day in lock-down
- Donating more than 300 pairs of goggles to local NHS services as Personal Protection Equipment.
Chris signed off his email with the message: “We want to serve our community and hopefully we are doing our bit.”
Tweet from Terry May
In the 16 days after Terry closed Bernie Mays, there was an increase of more than 4,000 deaths from Covid-19. At time of writing it has now passed 11,000. And even now it is still too early to say how people unable to work during the crisis will cope with the realities of staying at home during the coming weeks and months. What will it mean for their income, their ability to shop for food and heat their homes? How can they make it possible – even bearable – to physically distance themselves from their community and stay indoors?
Like most of us, Terry has mixed feelings about the situation – pleased, perhaps, for the chance to slow down and spend some time at home, but worried about what it all means for the larger community.
“My own personal view is bittersweet,” Terry tells me. “While I always moan that I don’t have a work life balance – that has certainly changed. It makes you value the simple things more – human contact, shopping, socialising. All the basic human needs.
“Personally, it is giving me a chance to reset and be comfortable with myself. More globally the world is resetting, giving the earth a chance to recover etc.
“Saying that though, I do understand that we do not live in utopia. The reality of this will really have kicked in for families who live day to day, week to week. How do they isolate? How do they stay safe? And that’s just on a health level. But lack of income will cause a lot of stress and strain on people. How do they buy food, or pay the electric?.
“It will literally become heat or eat. That is why some of the community groups are so vitally important – more than ever. People will be falling through the cracks and that’s what I fear the most.”
“A lot of people locally are newly self employed, so what happens to them? Even the ones who are furloughed may have to wait till the end of May or early June for their employer to receive a payment so they can be paid. There are a lot of good employers out there who will and can do the right thing.
“But due to cashflow, I know a lot who will not be able to. And that is leaving people without any money. That’s where it becomes cloudy – telling people they must stay at home unless it’s “essential”.
“Is plastering a wall on site essential? No, of course it’s not. But it is essential to the individual who needs to earn the money for food. So, does that make it essential? Yes – too damn right it does.”
Over the coming weeks, the death toll is expected to climb significantly before it slows as a result of the social distancing measures – and people being unable to gather in bars like Bernie Mays. Best estimates are that we are still days, and maybe weeks, from the Covid 19 death toll hitting its peak. And we have no idea what that peak will look like.
It is important from a public health perspective that Bernie Mays remains shut, and that people stay at home to limit the chances of transmitting the virus beyond those who live with them. But the really big question is what the real impact of these measures will be on those whose ability to earn a living during this time has been all but destroyed.
And that remains unanswered.
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