Covid leaves Sheffield pubs fighting for their lives – and what could soon replace them
The scale of pub closures that has hit Sheffield has been revealed – with more than a quarter lost in less than 20 years.
The lockdown has put pubs under even more pressure, with more staff costs and fewer customers – but some now believe a rise in micropubs could mean a new wave of bars in place of some of the more traditional venues.
Office for National Statistics figures show UK pubs had been under increasing pressure before the pandemic even began. The number of pubs fell to 38,900 in March last year – down slightly from 2019, and significantly fewer than the 52,500 in 2001.
In Sheffield this figure fell from 465 in 2001 to 330 in 2020.
One of the big name pubs lost during the pandemic has been the Devonshire Cat, which was Abbeydale Brewery’s city centre venue at Devonshire Green.
Laura Rangeley, marketing manager at Abbeydale Brewery, near Abbeydale Road, said even before the pandemic, there were concerns fewer people were coming into the town centre.
That worsened with people starting working from home rather than offices, something she believes is a problem for city centres everywhere.
"It’s difficult to see when it will increase again,” she said. “It would be nice to see a bit more life injected into the city centre though, but footfall has been falling for the last five years or so, maybe due to more people shopping online and the loss of big retailers. Unfortunately there are fewer reasons for people to go into the town centre.
"We are still selling to pubs, and that’s starting to pick back up. We’re also selling cans that pubs can sell as takeaways now as it harder to go on a pub crawl these days.”
She said they were still operating their remaining pub, the Rising Sun in Nether Green, which had a beer garden.
Gordon Jones, whose Speakeasy pub company runs the Blind Monkey, in Walkley, estimated takings at pubs was currently around a third down, and times were tough due to the pandemic.
He said: “One of the main things at present is staff costs are higher than normal times because we have to take the drinks to the tables. There are some that have gone to the wall and I think there will be more because I don’t think furlough has hit yet.”
He said he was concerned people may have got used to staying home rather than going out, and added he was aware of some in the industry who were in big debt to pub companies for rent from over the lockdown period.
But he added: “I think given time, the industry will get busy again – but there will be fewer pubs.”
Mosborough village has seen the impact of pub closures in recent years.
Several years ago, it lost The Vine pub on School Road. That is now an Indian restaurant.
More recently, it saw the Royal Oak, on High Street close. The building which had been a local for generations was demolished in May.
And the George and Dragon, owned by a pub company, is currently closed.
But this month, the trend of closures has reversed.
Richard and Anna Martin, a couple from the village who already run the estate agents next door, opened up a new micropub on High Street in what had previously been a motor spares shop.
After facing delays due to lockdown, the couple finally opened their new venue on Friday June 4. And after a successful launch, they are confident of making the venue a success.
At present, it has seating for 40, although that will increase when the restrictions brought about by the pandemic are lifted. They have invested £200,000 in transforming the venue, and Richard believes too many pub companies have failed to invest in their pubs, and believes that has been a problem for some.
He said: “We used to spend a lot of time at Kelham Island, and thought it would be a good idea to bring real ale and craft beer to Mosborough. It’s a totally different market and that is why micropubs are popping up all over Sheffield now. There is a demand for craft beers rather than your standard big-brewery lagers.
"We’ve been busy since we opened. We’ve had to turn people away.”
"I think too many pub companies put in a tenant and then don’t invest enough. With investment, I don’t think pubs will die off. I’ve lived here since I was a teenager and its a case of trying to provide what the village wants.”
Locals in Mosborough said they have missed the pubs that have gone. Sandra and Richard Mills said they did not go to pubs much, as they did not drink but had missed the George and Dragon while it has been closed.
"We’re sorry to see the George and Dragon closed at present. It did really good meals,” said Richard. “It’s a nice old world pub.”
Sandra added: “I think it’s a shame they’ve closed for people who go to the pub. There must be so much competition in food now though – even the supermarkets have restaurants.”
Resident Joanne Theo said the village used to be really busy in the evenings and there were sometimes fights. But she said the closure of some of the pubs had made a difference and it was quieter now. She said she thought some would be pleased there were fewer pubs but added: “It used to be nice to walk up and sit in the garden at the Royal Oak. I think it’s a shame it's gone.”
Another resident, Debbie Atkin. said she would have liked to have seen a pub restaurant on the site or the Royal Oak. “I think it’s a shame, as we used to walk round to these pubs,” she said. “It’s good to see the micropub opening though.”