A WOMEN has described how the dream of owning her own pub quickly unravelled into a nightmare as Covid-19 struck.
Only six months after becoming licensee at The Butchers Arms, Mossley, and sinking much of her life savings into the venture, Julia Robinson was forced to shut because of lockdown.
Julia, 46, who runs the popular wet-led pub with partner Daniel Thistleton, explained: “There have been lots of times over the last 12 months when I feared we would lose not only our business but our home.
“A lot of tears have been shed and there have been times over the last year when I have been inconsolable and cried for days on end.
“I have sat waiting to hear what Chancellor Rishi Sunak had to say when we were not allowed to open.
“Without the support he has given businesses, we would not be here today.”
Julia added her story is similar to the one experienced throughout the hospitality trade.
“I am sure I am speaking for most of the landlords who have experienced a lot of upset and very tough times in the last year,” she continued.
Julia has had to furlough four members of staff – the pub has a 12 strong workforce, including casuals, when fully operational.
“I also feel for them because some have really struggled in the last year. Not only have they lost work but also had to carry out home schooling with their children,” she said.
Julia also spoke about having to juggle finances: “Once the news of lockdown hit, I immediately cancelled all Direct Debits and spent hours on the phone begging for payment holidays or reductions in rates.
“It’s been the most stressful year we’ve ever experienced watching your bank account going down and down while you wait for your Government grants was awful.
“Even when closed, we still had to pay for things like the card machines and our licensing fees. Paying for things we weren’t even using was particularly painful.
“I’ve spent hours on the phone making sure we’re on the lowest possible rates for every utility. The Government grants have helped us, but it has been very hard.”
Julia qualified for an initial £10,000 business grant and has since been eligible for the Local Restriction Support Grant and has taken out a Government Bounce Back Loan.
Julia also relived the emotional impact the last year has taken on not only her and Daniel but their staff and regulars.
She explained: “I did everything in my power to help my team find any kind of income (at that point furlough had not been announced).
“My team was calling me in tears not knowing how they were going to pay their bills or feed their children. It was an extremely distressing time having so many people’s future in what seemed to be my hands. I employed a number of single mums who depend massively on the shifts they do for me.
“One thing you need to understand about this job is that you do it because you love socialising with people and seeing them happy.
“A lot of our regulars live alone, and our pub is their main point of social contact. They are desperately lonely without us, as we are lonely without them. Some of them left literally in tears when they knew we were closing for the last time.
“We speak daily on our WhatsApp group chat and I know, for me, it’s been massively helpful. When things have started taking their toll, they’ve always been there to pick me back up.”
But after the challenges of the past year, the Government’s roadmap offers a route back to normality and Julia is looking forward to the hospitality trade reopening again.
She joked: “I have become really good at opening pubs.
“Since I took over at The Butchers Arms I have opened, closed, refurbished, opened, ordered to close, reopened with restrictions, closed and are now ready to reopen again.”
And Julia and Daniel will not only be reopening The Butchers Arms but taking on a new venture.
After Mossley Football Club was forced to dispense with its full-time steward to cut costs, Julia and Daniel are to take over the social club by providing staff on matchdays and for other functions, something they are also excited about.
Julia, who was raised in Greenfield and attended Lydgate Primary and Saddleworth School, has spent most of her adult life working in pubs as a barmaid, karaoke host, DJ and singer.
The first pub she worked at aged 18 was the Church Inn, Millbrook, where her mentor was landlady Dorothy Wardle.
“I have since found out Dorothy was also licensee at The Butchers Arms so history has repeated itself with me taking over the pub,” she explained.
Julia, who has also worked in the motor trade, added it had been an ambition to run her own pub since the age of 30.
And Daniel, 33, a former pupil at Buckton Vale Primary and Mossley Hollins High School, who has been a carpet fitter and machine operator, is again no stranger to the licence trade.
His parents Stuart and Maureen were previously stewards at Carrbook Institute and Mossley Masonic Hall.