22 March 2020 Middlesbrough, UK

Hours after Boris Johnson's announcement that pubs, cafes and restaurants must close, a journalistic pub crawl looked to catch the mood in the pub's of central Middlesbrough, ahead of last orders


"Devastated" was the word heard countless times from patrons and publicans, at the news that following Friday evening, pubs, clubs and bars across the country would need to close in an effort to tackle the coronavirus.

The decision to call time on the UK's pub industry - for the time being at least - was made by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street yesterday afternoon during his daily address to journalists.

The announcement would not have come as a surprise to many.

Health experts and some in the trade have been calling on the Prime Minister to take action long before now, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in the UK continuing to rise.

This decision is no different to earlier actions taken across wider Europe in an effort to halt the spread of the deadly virus, including in Ireland who turned the taps off last Sunday.

With these sobering factors some were accepting that these measures were necessary in the face of a growing crisis, however it was clear there remained confusion, disappointment and in some circumstances a deep felt anger amongst those effected at what promised to be a final night out for quite some time. 

"The whole way he's done this is idiotic"

Understandably those feeling hardest hit by the news were the publicans of central Middlesbrough's many independent drinking establishments.

And for the owner-landlords of The Bottled Note and Sherlock's, it was the lack of notice that riled them the most. 

"He’s made the decision and called it at Friday tea-time," said Dave Mothersill of the micro-bar located on Baker Street. 

"At Friday tea-time all the pubs, clubs and restaurants already had their deliveries in for the weekend,

"We’ve heard nothing during the week from Mr Johnson regarding closure. So everyone’s had their deliveries fully expecting to be open over the weekend. 

"Then the devastating news comes - you’ve got seven hours and you're out of business."

Over on Borough Road, Nick Hadlett went further in his stinging criticism of the Prime Minister.

"Only a moron would come out with the idea of doing that with a few hours notice.

"They've ruined an entire economy, no one would do that with a few hours notice. 

"He needs to leave Downing Street by midnight tonight, I have sacked him, if he can sack me, I can sack him. He’s unemployed.

"The whole way he’s done this is idiotic.

"He needs to be sensible about how he does it, and he’s not been sensible in how he’s done, he’s done it badly likely he does everything.

"This is a ridiculous way to do it, give pubs a few hours notice, you’re all shutting."

Patrons making the most of a final night in The Swatters Carr before it was forced to close to aid containment of the coronavirus.
Patrons at The Swatters Carr enjoy a round of Gin and Blood Orange, prior to the pub closing in line with the Government's nationwide request.

Government support also announced for businesses and workers, but will it be enough? 

That afternoon's announcement also coincided with Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak confirming a raft of additional measures, aimed at supporting business and workers through the ensuing periods of self isolation and social distancing. 

But most of the landlords we spoke to on the night remained doubtful on their potential impact. 

"Where’s the money that he’s promised to pay?" questioned Hadlett. "No one’s seen a penny of it, no one can even find anything on the net to say where this money is coming from."

Although insisting "we'll be back", Mothersill was equally sceptical;  

"The fact is, when, how long will it take, how much red tape is there going to be, how many hoops have you got to jump through.

"You know, small business like this just doesn’t have the cash flow to last weeks, let alone months.

"The last two weeks have been horrific, slow trade etc, again a couple members of staff had to be laid off. 

"It’s just devastating for the whole area, for everyone and everyone is in the same boat."

The Twisted Lip's, Matthew Saul shared these concerns, as he highlighted how the ongoing situation had been "really detrimental" to his businesses. 

"What we’re having to do, just to try and pay staff wages etc - and these are all very expensive beers we buy in because we’re a premium bar and we take great pride in what we do.

"We’re having to sell these off now, to claw some money back, but its not even going to pay the price of the keg. 

"The government have said there will be help out there, the council has said there will be help out there, but it’s still going to damage us massively.

"Lots of businesses are going to suffer."

One publican trying to remain in bright spirits however, was The Style Council's, Gareth Paylor, who provided a philosophical tone on events.

"It’s just frustrating, but unfortunately it is what it is, it’s not just us its everybody, so fair’s fair. 

"I've been expecting it really. 

"To be honest, you wished you known in advance. But we all knew it was coming, so it is what it is, you've got to make the most of it."

Right call, but with potential for unintended consequences? 

And 'making the most' of a what could prove a final night out for a long time was evidently what many who ventured out were looking to do at venues across central Middlesbrough. 

As pints flowed, so did the distribution of mini bottles of hand sanitiser amongst friends, as of course did the debate on coronavirus itself. 

Some, including Chris who was drinking at The Southfield, felt the Prime Minister had made the right call. 

"I think it’s a necessary thing to do in light of things getting worse and we are taking the right precautions, we are taking the right measures, but at the same time people are going to be gutted that their social lives are over, people are going to wonder when this is going to end.

"It’s a bit gutting, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to bite the bullet and go, well the government are taking the right precautions otherwise it’s going to a massive strain on the NHS."

A man drinking with friends in The Swatters Carr, that did not want to be named, was in agreement;

"I don’t think its extreme measures, I think the measures that have been taken are probably appropriate.

"I think when you look at what’s happened in Iran, in China, Italy and Spain even now, I think we need to take drastic measures.

But there were word's of caution from both on whether the move would see other unintended consequences develop.  

"The immediate concern is about people’s physical health, trying to stop the virus spreading from one person to another, but there’s going to be a massive knock on effect with peoples psychological health by being isolated, individuals living by themselves."

Whilst Chris added; 

"It’s nice that communities are trying to find different ways to socialise with each other over social media, across computers in different ways, but nothing is as good as the traditional meeting up and having a laugh with each other."

Chris was also articulate in setting out the real difficulties many are having to face; 

"There’s some people who are going to really suffer and will have to stay at home.

"It’s really difficult, because people are thinking well that might be the case and we are taking the right precautions but how do I live, how do I pay my bills, etc.

"It’s so hard, no matter which way you look at its just impossible.

"I just hope that the government have thought about all this and going to subsidise where needs be and help people where needs be."

The Southfield, on Southfield Road, is just one of many independent Middlesbrough pubs effected by the enforced closures.
The Southfield, on Southfield Road, is just one of many independent Middlesbrough pubs effected by the enforced closures. 

Others not convinced

One person who we spoke to who would feel the impact of events personally was Katie, a student and part-time employee at The Pig Iron

Effectively left jobless, as it stands, her status as a student means she would not be eligible to receive any additional support through Universal Credit, leaving Katie understandably concerned about the days, weeks and months ahead.  

"This is my only source of income. I’ve got no money or nothing coming in... because I’m also a student, I don’t know if I’m entitled to anything? 

"I also work at the hospital, but for free, so what do I get? How am I going to fill my car, how am I going to pay my bills?

"I'm screwed!"

Still in The Pig Iron, a group we spoke to remained unconvinced the closures would prove effective. 

"I can’t see the point in closing the pubs, how its going to stop anything like that," said Michelle, drawing comparisons to how people were still congregating in large numbers through work situations and in supermarkets. 

"Pubs have not shut in this country, not even during two world wars," forcefully added Calum. 

"They’ve never shut and now they’ve shut. 

"We’ve come to the end of the United Kingdom as we know it!" 

It was also clear some people we spoke to remained of the opinion that situation was being over-blown as references to it being "just flu" were overheard. 

As the night drew on, the realisation that this would be the last night out for those we were speaking to for what could be a long time, begged the need to pose an important question; what are you going to do on an evening instead? 

Paul, out of ear shot of Michelle said, "she doesn’t know yet, but we’re going to make love every night!" whilst other suggestions included similar simple pleasures such as "watch films" and watch Eastenders."

But Tony, speaking to us outside of The Discovery on Newport Road, was stark in his response. 

"Nothing, because we’re going to sit at home and vegetate."

Continuing, to voice his opinion on the danger the older population faced through the prospect social isolation, he said;  

"There’s a lot of people at home as you know… loneliness causes lots of death. 

"So with everything closing down people are going to be sat at home, like the older generation, they're going to be lonely."

As part of that generation himself, Tony and his companions would also be considered one of those at most risk from coronavirus. 

But perhaps his final response shows how, for some, a choice between preserving life and having a life feels like no choice at all. 

"We come out for company and a bit of crack, a bit of laugh.

"We’re going end up sitting at home, nowhere to go, nothing to do."

Government guidance on social distancing 

The Government's current guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK is available here;

Highlighted points from within the guidance include;

This guidance is for everyone, including children.

It advises on social distancing measures we should all be taking to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

We are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.

Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce social interaction between people. This will help reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

They are to:

1.) Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough

2.) Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible

3.) Work from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this. Please refer to employer guidance for more information

4.) Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces, noting that pubs, restaurants, leisure centres and similar venues are currently shut as infections spread easily in closed spaces where people gather together.

5.) Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media

6.) Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

Everyone should be trying to follow these measures as much as is practicable.

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