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Covid-19: 'Why we took on a Jaywick pub in the pandemic'

By Laurence Cawley
BBC News

image captionFrom customer to licensee: Jayne Nash is part of the team which has taken over the Never Say Die

Trade body Hospitality UK has warned of a looming catastrophe facing the pub and hotel sector. Why, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, would anybody decide to take over a public house?

"Crazy? We probably are," said Jayne Nash. "But it was an opportunity we couldn't miss."

For years, she has been a regular at the Never Say Die, which stands 20m (60ft) from Jaywick's beach on the Essex coast.

But now she and her team at the Jaywick Sands Revival (JSR) group are on the other side of the bar, having gone from customer to licensee.

It is being run as a "community pub", supported initially by grants from a number of organisations, and operated in support of the food and clothes banks organised by JSR.

image captionThe Never Say Die (known locally as, simply, "The Die") reopened on 1 August

Granted a licence earlier this year, the Never Say Die (known locally as, simply, "The Die") reopened on 1 August.

"We had a week to get going. It was all hands on deck," said Ms Nash. "It is community based and everybody is around the Die.

"It was brilliant. We had table service and everybody knew where they were going.

"We were operating on a first-come, first-served basis."

Takings were about £1,000 per night.

But within weeks of reopening, the team received the worst possible news in the form of a second lockdown.

"We had Jaywick in here and they were crying their eyes out, literally crying," says Ms Nash. "We've got a lot of people with mental health issues and the Die is where they come, it is where they meet, where they chat.

"They knew they were heading for sitting at home again and maybe their mental health going downhill again.

"I was nearly in tears too, just to see so many people so upset."

Now that Essex has been placed into tier two, those involved with the pub are faced with deciding whether or not to serve substantial meals in order to be able to reopen the pub when the national lockdown ends on Wednesday.

image captionJade Copeland said she hoped the pub would play a key role in giving people skills they can take with them into other careers

The second lockdown has created two separate worlds within the walls of the Never Say Die.

Under the lockdown rules, Jaywick Sands Revival had to suspend the pub's operations. But the food and clothing bank, as vital community resources, were allowed to continue.

The pub, usually a hive of activity with a vibrant karaoke scene, has lain empty, cold and silent. The function room at the back, however, has been bustling with a continual flow of donated goods coming in and needed items going out.

Goods - tins and boxes of food, play equipment and clothing - have been stacked high along free-standing metal shelving along the back wall, almost obscuring the small bar counter in there.

The hybrid model is merely one key difference between the new Never Say Die and an average pub.

There are others. All of the bar staff at the Never Say Die, for example, have been volunteers. Among them have been people with full-time jobs who wanted to do their bit for the community. Some were former bar staff who simply want to keep working there.

image captionJaywick began as a holiday resort, with homes becoming permanent residences after World War Two
  • Jaywick was deemed the most deprived area of England in 2015 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • The village is home to 4,665 residents and represented by Conservative MP Giles Watling
  • It was a popular holiday destination in the 1930s for people living in Essex and east London
  • After World War Two, housing shortages meant what were once holiday homes became permanent residences
  • In 1953, 35 people died in Jaywick during the North Sea flood. The village has remained at risk of flooding
  • An image of a run-down Jaywick was used in a campaign advert for US congressional candidate Dr Nick Stella. It featured on the Republican's Facebook page and warned voters against going back to "foreclosures, unemployment and economic recession".

"At some point we want to turn those voluntary roles into jobs," said Jade Copeland, director of Jaywick Sands Revival. "We want people to have a career and skills that they can take outside if they choose to.

"It [the pub] will always be a Jaywick asset because of how we are set up as a company - it will always be Jaywick that has this pub.

"A normal pub has a manager or owner who takes the profits and does whatever they want with them.

"As a community pub, our profits - anything that we get - goes back into Jaywick, whether running the food bank, the clothes bank, or the events that we put on for the community."

She said the aim was to get Jaywick Sands Revival away from grant dependency into a self-funding enterprise. And that, she said, was where the success of the pub became paramount.

"There is going to come a point when we need to run it ourselves. We get grants and we get funding for the food bank and so forth, but we want to be able to do it for ourselves.

"What is the point of going outside if you can do it yourselves?"

image captionRoy Raby believes housing growth in Jaywick augers well for the pub's commercial success

In a given year, there are usually between 9,000 and 10,000 license applications annually across England and Wales. The full impact of Covid-19 on those figures this year is not yet known.

But in the Tendring district of Essex that covers Jaywick the impact has been clear. It would usually receive dozens of licensing applications each year.

Since the first lockdown in March, the council has received just two bids from would-be licensees wanting to take over pubs - one for the Never Say Die and a second one for the King's Arms in St Osyth.

UK Hospitality, a trade organisation representing the pub and hotel sectors, said Covid-19 had spelled disaster for these industries.

Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality's chief executive, said: "If hospitality does not get the support it needs right now, businesses will fold and jobs will be lost.

"That is not just a disaster in the short term, it undermines the efforts to recover next year and into 2022. We have already lost 600,000 jobs."

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Roy Raby, chairman of JSR, believes despite the pandemic the timing was right for Jaywick Sands Revival to take over the pub.

He cited the recent growth of Jaywick - which has included 140 new homes nearby - as a sign of a Jaywick being "on the up".

More people moving into the village, he said, meant more potential customers.

"You won't recognise this place in a few years' time," said Mr Raby. "What with this [the pub] and what with all the building going in Jaywick at the moment."

Those involved in the revival company believe the pub's fortunes and those of the community at large are linked.

Ms Nash said the group wanted to purchase the premises outright when it had the money to do so.

"We want to make it grow," she said. "People want to do their weddings here, hold wakes here and that sort of thing.

"We've had so many volunteers come forward since we started. People know what we're doing and they want to help.

"Jaywick needs assets which are self-sustaining and this was a good opportunity to do that for them.

"And at the end of the day, this is The Die. The people of Jaywick love the Never Say Die - it's been here since 1939, survived the floods and and it's our pub."

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