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The Ingate revisited

Pub is positive it will see the good times return after lockdown

The power of positivity is a key ingredient to licensee Michelle Payne’s success.

It’s her can do attitude that enabled her to smoothly transition from running a gallery to the Ingate Freehouse pub in Beccles, Suffolk.

And it came to the fore again when she provided support in the form of sponsorship to the town’s women’s football team when it launched a couple of years ago.

The pub’s backing of Beccles Ladies led to Michelle being named BT Sport Manager of the Month in January 2018. She was presented with the trophy by England football legend Fara Williams, in what proved to be a great period for the pub.

Michelle says: “Before Lockdown one, our pub was thriving. We are based close to a sports facility for cricket, rugby and football. All the players would pop in after sport, to watch sport, for an early morning for coffee or tea and a chat.

“We are wet-led pub and proud to be a traditional pub. Women were made to feel welcome and the pub needed to be inclusive.

“If you were a woman on your own, we would look after you and make sure you were not afraid to just come in, sit down, feel safe and enjoy.

However, things started to change when news broke of the outbreak of Covid-19 in China which the pub responded to immediately.

She continues: “We stopped everything financially and started to put away money in case of bad news. By March we all knew.”

When pubs were forced to close for the first time Michelle and the team used it as a chance to do the jobs that never got done in busier times.

“We did all the work we could to the pub when we were forced to close. Volunteers were allowed to help with the pub and we were supported by plumbing companies, gas companies and with donations.”

Michelle kept in regular contact with furloughed staff and customers and organised online events such as live music broadcast from the pub on Friday nights.

“We felt great. The pub looked lovely. We had time to do all the jobs we never had time to do,” she adds.

But the challenges really began when the pub was allowed to reopen with restrictions in place that caused confusion for staff and customers alike.

Michelle explains: “Some customers just yelled at us if we reprimanded them. We had to keep control and stick to our guns.

“Eventually all came around to the new one-way systems, social distance seated at tables. With each new rule came more headaches. The thing was, we got a reputation built on this, for being a safe place to visit.

The wet-led pub expanded its offer to provide food in the form of a street food van. The long-term plan was to ensure the pub had another revenue stream with takeaways when the next lockdown inevitably came. 

“The future of our pub was changing, but actually for the better,” Michelle continues.  “With the new street food van came regular custom, more visitors and we realised quickly our car park which is small had to go and be replaced with a beer garden.”

The investment coupled with loss of trade and stock has hit the pub hard financially but Michelle remains upbeat.

“Thank goodness for the bounce-back loan. We have lost our savings, but are hopeful. The government grants have been helpful for some of the bills, and for any expense in the safety measures that had to be enforced.

Our rent is £1,000 a month, our living costs for gas and electric are £2,000 a month. That’s without other bills. These are not covered. We are careful and yet still £35,000 in debt. We are also one of the lucky ones. Many are facing ruin and losing their homes.”

Despite the setbacks Michelle is confident about the future of the pub and making up the money.

“Our pub is so popular as a sporting venue and we are confident we will re-coup all our savings over the coming years.

“We have made many changes to the pub and we now even have pods with screens and charging areas where sports fans can watch their teams.

“Our pub has now been evaluated to be inclusive to all walks of life. We look forward to a new style of working together, and not taking anything for granted.”

And it will naturally all be done with an upbeat outlook.

Michelle adds: “We will be one of the ones that get through with positivity and forward thinking.

Just keep on going. Think outside the box, we will make it.”



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