Pint in hand, Kidderminster pub landlord Colin Faulkner is enjoying a chat with a dozen or so of his regular customers.
Nothing out of the ordinary in one respect, but because of the current coronavirus restrictions, this friendly gathering is being done through an online group chat, not in the Station Inn.
It’s good banter, and good for morale – but it doesn’t pay the bills.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown, some pub companies and breweries have decided to waive rent payments for publicans to help them through these difficult times.
Unfortunately for Colin, his pub’s owners, Punch Pubs, are one of a number who have chosen to defer those payments rather than cancel them.
“Pubs like the Station Inn are at the centre of their communities so it would be a real loss if we can’t weather this storm,” Colin says.
“My rent is about £600 per week, and deferring the payments for them to be paid later could push me into debt that I really can’t afford.
“I’ve put the staff onto furlough and claimed support from the government scheme, but with no income for the foreseeable future I’m really worried.”
Colin and his wife Trudy have turned the pub’s fortunes around in the eight-and-a-half years they have been there.
They have become part of the fabric of this community, and even in these difficult times have been trying to help others.
All the perishables which can not be sold have already been donated to food charities.
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And their importance has been recognised by their regulars.
One of them, Jennifer Wilson, has set up a fundraising campaign to help the pub survive.
She says: “I don’t know many people who would do more than Colin and Trudy to help anyone they can, with the food bank, fundraisers, etc, and so maybe this is our chance to say thank you to them and offer a little something to get them through this nightmare time.”
Over the road from the pub lives another regular, Scott Joynes.
“They are the heart of this community,” he says.
“They’ve set up a football team, a rugby team, a cribbage club, and a golf society. They also organise a summer fair and lots of charity events, as well as running a food bank. I really can’t imagine what we’d do without them.”
Andy Spencer, managing director of Punch Pubs & Co, says: “These are clearly difficult circumstances for everyone connected with the pub industry, and at Punch we are fully committed to working in partnership with Colin to get through this very challenging time together.
“We continue to defer the collection of rent, insurance, fixtures and fittings rental and licensing fees for all of our pubs until further notice, and remain committed to working with each of our Publicans on an individual basis.
“This remains a fluid situation with uncertain timelines, however Punch is here to support and work together with all of our Publicans to ensure a long term, sustainable future for them and their businesses.”
With the duration of the restrictions still unclear, these are worrying times for thousands of pubs across the country, many of which were struggling even before COVID-19 arrived.
Not all of them are lucky enough to have a community which is prepared to help out.
Those that are not, fear that they may have already called “last orders” for the last time.