“They wrapped their arms around everyone and proved that we are all in this together.” We discuss pandemic support and reopening with Geoff Page, the Nutshell in Bury St. Edmunds
The Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds is the pub of the long-term and dedicated tenant, Geoff Page and his business partner. Confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records, the pub is also the smallest in the UK. Although quite an accolade, and a key searching point for tourists visiting the Suffolk town, it has made the pandemic’s effect much worse on Geoff and the team.
“When you are the smallest pub in the UK, social distancing is not at all possible. If you stand for a pint in The Nutshell, you stand at the bar.” So explains Geoff as we discuss the last year for the Greene King Pub Partner.
Geoff has been at The Nutshell for over 18 years, but that experience could not have prepared the team for the pandemic’s effect. “I became obsessed with news bulletins and briefings, just trying to understand how long this would go on for. I genuinely expected it to be a short shock to get the infections under control – boy, was I wrong!” Geoff explains. With a pub that clearly could not open safely, Geoff was now looking at how he would financially support his business as restrictions remain, and life looked set to stay controlled for some time.
“Having been with Greene King for many years, I have a great relationship with my BDM and the wider team. So, I knew they would be able to do something to help us. Before long, the communication started, and it wasn’t just regular updates. It really signposted the journey for us, providing analysis and easy to read and understand explanations of the various support and guidance available to us”.
Geoff joined hundreds of regular visitors to the Greene King online Covid-19 portal. He explains that he had access to training, free memberships, morale and mental health support, and, all importantly, the announcement of financial support from Greene King.
“The support has been incredible. I have been given a rent concession of 90% - only finding 10% of the rent has been fundamental in assuring our business’s success. It wasn’t just rent, but I got credit on wasted or returned beer – that I can now spend when I am ready to open. I think other companies, including pub companies, should bow their heads in shame if they haven’t provided anything similar to this.”
For Geoff, Greene King became a saviour on something extraordinary and specific to The Nutshell. With such an incredible impact on his business, being of such a small size, the only opportunity to increase revenue would be to grow the business area. Although not physically possible in the pub, Geoff and the Greene King team managed to negotiate some outdoor space with their local authority.
“We applied, based on the current pandemic situation, to have an outdoor seating area which can be serviced easily from our pub. To my surprise and pleasure, we were approved thanks to the support of the Greene King team. However, it didn’t end there; they also helped me to source barriers and seating to make sure the new licensed space could be used.” Geoff explains.
“As I look back over the past year, I am still surprised at how far the support has gone for us tenants. Everything they undertook, from the financial support to the regular communications, has felt like Greene King have wrapped their arms around everyone and proved that we are all in this together. Of course, a cynical person would think they had to do this. Still, in reality, no company had to – or has – delivered this much support to their people, especially within the hospitality sector. The teams’ actions here have proved that the only way we haven’t all gone bust is because we are in a partnership, being treated like a partner. The phrase ‘pub partner’ could not be any more apt for a company that supports tenants as Greene King has.”
Geoff, who has work commitments away from his pub, works occasionally but relies on his staff to run the business in his absence. Luckily, they have been covered by the government’s furlough scheme and have managed to maintain morale and eagerness to return.
“I have to say a massive thank you to Sam, our BDM. Her support throughout all of this nightmare has been great. If anything, as a small business owner, I feel like I have been lucky throughout Covid. I am fortunate. But I know for sure, that is only thanks to my flexibility and the ongoing support from the ‘pub partners’ team.”