Businesses are closed. People are officially out of work. Leisure time is limited.

Huge chains such as Cineworld have announced temporary closure of 128 cinemas, with potential job losses of up to 5,500 people. Cancelled gym memberships and limited facilities and strict time slots in which to work out has seen DW Sports into administration, but thankfully for all staff, has been bought by Sports Direct, and re-branded as Everlast Fitness Clubs – a name that hopefully will be an omen for the future . 2020 has seen the demise of  to independently run events companies that have no events to book, pubs and restaurants with no diners or drinkers to serve, and DJ’s and MC’s with no open venues for their decks to supply ravers and clubbers with their passion and freedom of dance.

This is the tip of the iceberg in loss of employment. As well as the associated staff above, consider the bottle washers, cleaners, dancers and personal trainers that have lost their primary source of income. Event organisers with losses of 98% of income as people look to have a socially distanced or Zoom party. Weddings and parties that have been put on hold until 2022 will no doubt financially strain the dress, suit, and outfit hire companies and the owners of the obscure pubs and venues that have nobody to fill their party rooms. Taxi drivers and fast-food eateries now have 11pm finish times and hours of trade and thousands of pounds of lost revenues to make up for, or attempt to budget for.

In an interview with a lifelong friend and publican, I have had my eyes opened.  Hearing the realism and impact that the worry of and then an actual loss of a business has had was a bit like witnessing a car accident rather than reading about one. Although in the news, unless you see it there is never really that depth of feeling unless you are involved.

Now, this year, and with varying levels of support and information, we are all involved. My friend, we shall call him Sid, had built up a growing pub in a small-ish town in East Anglia to a thriving hub of the community with massive opportunity for growth. Slightly off the beaten track and reliant on a loyal collection of locals and an established site for music and weekend functions, the pub as a venue was completely booked for the whole of 2021. Sid proudly told me that the last full weekend before the lockdown officially happened (that of March 14th) was the biggest weekend in commercial success that he had during his three-year tenure. This, like thousands of other businesses, was about to change. Up to this point, I had seen uploaded photos and videos of a filled events room and a permanently rammed bar, combined with clear passion and a desire to succeed.

This has all stopped, and was instead changed to posts of apologies and regret, and heartfelt thanks to friends, family, staff, and past attendees for their support, and wishing them success in the future. These were followed by the post that bore the same message with the same three words as countless other peoples’ statuses across the country, and probably the world; “Left job at…”.

Being brutally honest and very nobly thankful for support received from people, and surprisingly you may think, the government for doing as much as Sid thought they were practically able to so, the emotional strains became evident in our conversation. Taking pride before a fall and being able to walk away with no debt is something that Sid is extremely proud of and holding his head high is a prime example of strength of character and personal fortitude. With no loan or repayment package taken, and only using a £10,000 government that covered running costs of the business and not stretching to cover income the loan was used in 3 months.

The honesty and giving of thanks to where Sid has felt it is due, namely his accountant who he could not praise enough, and to the government where his belief is that they really couldn’t practically do more than they could from a finance perspective, is twinned with more than frustration towards the landlords of the pub, going back on their word and not offering previously promised support with rent or other financial burdens. When asked, Sid was also unaware of any government schemes to help support with any mental anguish suffered from the loss of business and the personal and family fallout that could have so easily followed.

Moving from what has happened, to what should happen and the direction that the government should look at taking, Sid’s thoughts were honest, sensible, and probably completely nothing like the plans that No 10 and it’s team have come up with. Understanding and comprehending the threat of Covid but with an uncompromising mindset that we need to return to work as a collective whilst still maintaining caution for both financial and leisure/health reasons were Sid’s thoughts that were in line with the majority. Doing what works. Sensible temperature-taking on entrance, track and trace working, releasing the 10pm curfew, better support and clarity over the rules for freeholders and owner. Instilling proper measures from start to finish.

Whilst having had a year worse than most, Sid is also lucky compared to many. He has a wonderful wife who works for the NHS, so whilst having an extremely harrowing year, he has had a steady household income. and two school-aged children who are old enough to be switched on enough and able to understand why decisions have been made and potential outcomes explained, including the possibility of relocation. Undoubtedly, they have had to deal with things in a grown-up manner (that were upsetting to them) behind closed doors. Whilst the loss of the business has had a massive impact to his family life, Sid is working on new ventures, playing his cards close to his chest, and looking at a different career with the possibility of re-training to learn a new skillset, supported on all levels by his wife, family, and close friends and acquaintances. Knowing the man, I know that he will eventually punch through this situation. He has great people around him and wants to be a success his career as he already is in his family and personal life.

Unfortunately, there will be many others that are facing higher levels of uncertainty, financial burden to the point of ruin, and worse levels of mental strain that could lead to tragedy. At present the rules do not support the hospitality or leisure trade. Driving punters into a pub in a smaller drinking time is clearly not the right answer. Opening longer, staggering the levels of drinkers and diners, keeping taxis going later and not bottle-necking the street, and people working their full shifts must be put in place. Keeping music below 85 decibels and banning any form of singing and/or dancing is Draconian law and needs reviewing so it can be done safely.

I cannot think how this would be done safely, and return venues to a full capacity and appease everyone. That would be impossible. What is not impossible is thinking out of the box, give the people and figureheads a chance to speak and work with the governing bodies. There are sit-down raves appearing with ravers and dancers able to get a bit of appeasement, although still not allowed to dance. Surviving gym classes have been touted to include dance music, and a loophole to allow dancing to music.

The number of growing groups on Facebook in supporting our leisure is snowballing, and it will not be much longer before the people do speak. When they do it will certainly be above 85 decibels, there will be en masse dancing, and groups of more than 6 that will not go home at 10pm.


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