SAVEOURPUBS - The Front Page in Ballymena
27 August 2020
Husband and Wife team Stephen and Marie Reynolds took over at the helm of the Front Page in Ballymena in 1990, with the aim of being a cross-community hub for the people of the town.
As they entered their 30th year of business at the turn of 2020, it’s fair to say they have done all that and more.
A slew of awards around the building tell the story of the past three decades, with pride of place given to no less than three ‘Community Pub of the Year’ awards.
And if we were to delve into the establishment’s history of charity contribution, frankly we’d be here all night.
But the longstanding pub, in existence since the early 1900s, has been shuttered since mid-March with no indication of when, or indeed if, they’ll see their doors open again.
“It has been tough for myself and Marie”, says licensee Stephen Reynolds, “we should be celebrating our 30th year in business with what I like to call our ‘Front Page Family’- and we’re not for obvious reasons.”
“As tough as it has been on us, I feel greatly for our staff and customers- especially our older people.”
“We are a community pub by name and by nature. Our day time trade would very much be people who are at home alone”, he pauses, “and they don’t always come for a pint.”
“A lot of the time they come for a cup of tea or coffee, a read of the paper and a chat with whoever is on the bar.”
“Even during the lockdown, we have remained in touch with them. Our staff have been calling our older customers just to make sure everyone’s okay.”
Mr Reynolds is all too aware of the importance of public health as a year defined by the global pandemic rolls on, but is strikingly passionate when asked about the current closure of traditional pubs.
“I am in no way minimising the risk with regard to the current COVID19 pandemic, but I just can’t understand how the Chief Medical Officer and our Executive can justify the difference between a pub serving food and alcohol, and a traditional pub serving alcohol-only in a controlled environment.”
“Wet led pubs have always had to operate in a controlled environment. Admission is controlled, measures are controlled, consumption is controlled, behaviour is controlled, opening and closing time is controlled, numbers are controlled.”
“There is absolutely no reason why we couldn’t operate within the guidelines with sanitiser stations, restricted numbers, a customer register and table service only.”
“The whole thing is farcical. Continued closure of traditional pubs only serves to encourage more private house parties where such controlled measures are seldom a priority.”
“The NI Executive now has a moral obligation to provide financial support by way of an emergency funding package for pubs in our position. 23 weeks closed and I’m still paying full rent to my landlord of 30 years. I continue to pay fixed charges for telephone, WIFI, insurance, electricity and water.”
“As of the 1st August we are now paying national insurance and pension contributions for furloughed staff. It’s already costing me £1,200 per week to remain closed.”
“I fully recognise the need to protect the health and safety of the general public, but I also recognise the need to protect the livelihoods of our pub operators and their staff. This week’s announcement will no doubt result in pub closures and job losses.
“Pubs like the Front Page are a vital part of the local economy, the local community, and a vital part of the hospitality and tourism offer in Ballymena and in every town in Northern Ireland.”