Pubs across Oxfordshire are struggling, but rural landlords have found innovative ways to keep their businesses going.

Many feel the one-off ‘top-up’ grants from Government for closed businesses are not enough.

Some have turned to takeaways, and one county bar has even transformed into an off-licence.

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Dave Richardson from Oxford Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) said: “It seems what is given with one hand is taken away with the other.

"Any kind of cash grant is welcome, obviously, and the bigger pubs will probably be able to get through 'til spring without too much extra pain, but the smaller ones with less rateable value will get a few thousand pounds in grants, and this will not even make up for the Christmas trade they lost.”

He added: “Pubs in villages, some of them have been able to carry on playing an essential role in their communities. First, they were open for food until Christmas and then they have been able to open for takeaway beer and food and supporting vulnerable people.”

One pub that has found a surprising amount of success is The Wheatsheaf in East Hendred near Didcot.

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Bill and Carmel Sheehan have owned the pub for 10 years, and to keep the business running during the pandemic, the couple decided to offer their customers takeaway food.

Mr Sheehan said: “After being in this trade for such a long time, I never thought the day would come that I would start doing takeaways. It is one of these things and you have to adapt.”

"Now it has snowballed into a nice little business.”

The Keep in Wallingford made a decision early on in the pandemic to switch from a bar to an off-licence selling specialist spirits and beer.

Co-owner Sam Smith said: “Because the size of the property was so small and social distancing looked like it was never going to go away anytime soon, those were the main reasons why we did it.”

Oxford Mail: Launch of Albino Flamingo at The Keep in Wallingford. Pictured is Sam Smith and Rob McGregor. Picture: Ed NixLaunch of Albino Flamingo at The Keep in Wallingford. Pictured is Sam Smith and Rob McGregor. Picture: Ed Nix

He added: “Luckily we are classed as essential so we have been able to open. Christmas ended up being a record for us in terms of takings and it really created a buzz in town”

Mr Smith is now even planning to open a new restaurant and bar in Wallingford, to be called ‘Five Little Pigs’ and set to open in April.

The pub owner said he felt sorry for the struggling pubs in the area. He said: “I wouldn’t ever want to be in that position, and we would have been in that position, but for us we had no choice – the business grants would not have been enough.”

As pubs and bars close, brewery sales have decreased dramatically, however breweries fall between the cracks and do not qualify for a cash grant like other businesses as they have not been forced to close.

Oxford Mail: Staff at the Tap Social off Botley Road Staff at the Tap Social off Botley Road

Tess Taylor, founder of Botley brewery Tap Social said: “All of our wholesale customers have been wiped out and forced to close, so we have noone to sell our beer to. We can still do retail and sell to individuals but the volumes are nowhere near what you need to run a sustainable business.”

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