The Lamb on Holloway Road in north London is, outwardly, no different to many of the other 45,000 pubs up and down the country that welcomed customers into their premises for the first time in many months on 17 May. But it doesn’t take too much scratching below the surface to find that just like all these other pubs, it very much has its own story to tell.
It’s been telling it for the past year or so in all its gory detail on a pretty active Twitter account. It’s been possible to follow its ups and downs over these tumultuous months when it has clearly been fighting for its survival. Its activities have included the hosting of a Kickstarter-type fundraising effort that brought in £15,000 from its regulars to help it keep the wolf from The Lamb’s door.
An incredibly gloomy, wet early evening could not darken or dampen the pleasure of landlord Ade Clarke as he welcomed back many of his regulars – who he’d not seen for some time. He seemed genuinely taken aback that he was pretty much fully booked up for the evening with all his well-spaced tables taken. It was clear that for The Lamb’s drinkers who had ventured out that night – like many other people across the country – they very much regard the pub as so much more than just a place to go for a drink.
It was also clear that not only does it provide this home-from-home for its clientele but it also supports a whole infrastructure around it. On my visit to The Lamb, I was served by a very capable member of the team who nervously admitted it was her first shift. So many other young people like her rely on such roles to help them build their confidence in the workplace and contribute to nurturing their independence.
While soaking up the ambience of being back in a dimly lit environment with friends, I could hear the soft tones of traditional Irish music emanating from the corner of the bar, rising above the regular bar room chatter. Like many such musicians this was, no doubt, the first time they’d been able to perform in public for some time and they also represented another strand of life that relies on the support of pubs like The Lamb.
My experience was lifted greatly by being able to enjoy my first pints of cask ale for some time – from local small craft brewers including the Three Sods in East London – and also beers from the Essex-based Leigh on Sea Brewery. Like many such businesses that focus predominantly on the on-trade they have been waiting for freehouses like The Lamb to begin trading again so they could get themselves back on their feet.
As many as 40 of the UK’s 2,000 small craft brewers have been forced to close due to covid-19, and the survivors have built up debts to an average level of £30,000, according to the Society of Independent Brewers. So while The Lamb will be fighting hard to resurrect its business, it also has many others reliant on its success for their own return to profitable trading.
While Ade can hopefully now begin to rebuild The Lamb, our thoughts turn to the 2,000 pubs that still remain closed because they are too small to trade safely under the current guidelines. They have to hold out until – hopefully – they can begin trading again on 21 June. When they do, it will not only be themselves and their loyal customers who will finally be able to breathe a massive sigh of relief but all those small suppliers that rely on these pubs’ custom for their own survival, the bar staff who need them for their incomes and the musicians who need a platform from which they can spread a little happiness.
Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.