‘We’ll be able to pay our bills’ - Closed Norwich pub says funding will be crucial to survival
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
The future of the Brickmakers, known affectionately as the Brickies to its community of music lovers, is reaching a crunch point.
With no kitchen to serve food and much of its business coming through live music, the pub remains restricted by social distancing and rules over indoor performances.
More than two months after much of the sector took unsteady steps back to normality, its doors remain shut.
Landlady Charley South, who shares the reins with Pam South and Emma Rose, will soon lodge the pub’s bid for a slice of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, a shot in the arm for the arts sector.
It’s a lifeline she says could be make or break for the pub.
“If we get help from that fund we will be able to open and pay our bills,” she said. “That’s the plan. If we can get the help, we will put gigs on again.
“If we don’t we will be having quite stressful conversations.”
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But with recipients not due to hear their fate until early October, a six-week period of limbo lays ahead, and Ms South said without funding they would not be able to open until social distancing was over.
“We can’t get enough people in to pay our bills,” Ms South said. “Socially distanced gigs would be a third of our normal capacity. No matter how we do the lay-out and the figures, it’s just not feasible.
“We have some people say they don’t understand why we can’t open, but the minute we do we are paying £10,000 a week to keep running.”
It’s been a tough year, but there have been pockets of positivity - they have recently reached the finals of owner Ei Publican Partnerships’ pub hero award in the Great British Pub Awards.
Ms South said: “It is awesome to be put forward and we are really chuffed as we have been working hard to keep the community entertained.”
And the team’s annual Brickest - which will return for its 14th outing this year and which normally attracts 1,200 people over 12 hours - will go ahead despite the pub’s continued closure, with it instead being held at the Norfolk Showground as part of the Summertime Social events.
The landlords have also gone above and beyond to stay close to the community, which has rallied around it in previous periods of difficulty.
In 2018, the Sprowston Road pub neared closure after talks over its future lease broke down.
With a history of giving up and coming performers a stage to hone their craft, their plight caught the attention of music lovers nationally, and a petition to ensure it stayed reopen reached thousands of signatures.
The pub itself was listed as an Asset of Community Value, and the county’s music scene sighed with relief when a new lease was finally signed in early 2019.
It’s a level of support which has been mirrored through 2020, Ms South said, with supporters donating to keep them afloat going forward.
The team has launched a radio station during lockdown, which is expanding, with a handful of presenters leading shows from home and the Sprowston Youth Engagement Project now involved.
And every Sunday night, Ms South leads a virtual quiz which attracts roughly 60 to 70 people a week.
“We are in communication with our local community every day in some shape or form,” she said.
The station has added to an already busy workload for a team who - like many landlords - see little downtime.
“It’s the same for all three of us, you only get time to yourself if you book it in advance and go away somewhere,” she said. “I don’t mind though. It’s the way of life and the Brickies means everything to us. It means a hell of a lot to the community.
“A church is about the people inside it, and I think the Brickies is the same. It’s special, and more than bricks and mortar.”
Norfolk Great British Pub finalists
The White Horse in King’s Lynn has made the finals of the community mindfulness category thanks to its work to keep its customers connected during lockdown.
Its landlord Marvin Tillman hosted weekly live DJ sets on Facebook and donated items for nurses on the critical care ward.
The Jolly Brewers, in nearby Shouldham Thorpe, has made it into the final of Admiral Taverns’ pub hero of the year award.
Landlords Adam Noble and Aaron Dobson opened a shop inside the pub to make sure locals could buy essentials.
And Tuddenham Lodge, near Dereham, has been shortlisted for the best pub shop, which opened in 2019 and has been essential for locals in lockdown.
Victoria Hunt, who runs the pub with husband Gavin, said: “The shop was really a lifeline for so many during the early days of lockdown and we are absolutely thrilled to be a finalist.”