As It Happens

How one of the U.K.'s tiniest pubs plans to cope with new physical distancing rules

The cozy nature of a U.K. bar that once held the Guinness World Record for tiniest pub in the U.K. is now doing more to hurt the business than help it as the government loosens pandemic restrictions.

At 4.5 by 2.1 metres, The Nutshell bar could only host 4 people under new rules, landlord says

The Nutshell pub in Bury St Edmunds, England, is one of the smallest in the United Kingdom. Although the government is loosening coronavirus restrictions, one of the pub's landlords says its just not feasible for the business to reopen — unless it can do so outside. (Mary Page)

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The cozy nature of a bar that once held the Guinness World Record for tiniest pub in the U.K. is now doing more to hurt the business than help it as the government loosens pandemic restrictions.

On July 4, the U.K. will allow bars and restaurants to reopen if they follow certain precautions, including keeping patrons one metre apart or more — a reduction from the previous rule of two metres.

"We're just not going to be able to reopen as the current legislation stands," Geoff Page — one of the landlords of The Nutshell pub in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England — told As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue. 

The bar measures just 4.5 by 2.1 metres. It typically accommodates about a dozen people comfortably, but sometimes hosts up to 18 or 20 patrons on a lively night.

"If you imagine it, you've got seating around the edges of the pub and you've got people sitting down there, and then you've got people standing at the bar and standing on the floor," Page said. 

"It is packed, and obviously that sort of setup does mean if you're sitting down, that you've potentially got somebody's bottom in your face or something like that."

Geoff Page is one of the landlords of The Nutshell. (Mary Page)

With all of the manoeuvring it would take to meet physical distancing requirements, Page estimates the little pub could likely only accommodate four patrons.

And after a few drinks, some people may find it more difficult to follow the strict one-metre-or-more rule, he added.

"It's just not feasible," he said. 

But there is hope.

Bar requesting permission to serve outside

The business is applying for an exemption to a local bylaw that prevents people from drinking on the streets.

If it receives approval, The Nutshell could potentially provide outdoor seating and tables where patrons can enjoy a cold one, or simply allow customers to stand outside the pub with their drinks.

"We're waiting, obviously, hopefully waiting to get confirmation from the local authorities," Page said.

"If that comes through, then that's the game-changer for us. And we can work out how best for the staff to look after people and make sure that we get it right with people drinking outside."

U.K. cases declining

The United Kingdom had more than 300,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease as of Monday, according to the World Health Organization. More than 43,000 people have died there since the beginning of the pandemic.

Britain has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world. But with infection rates on the decline, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that he was ready to open parts of the economy again. 

Still, some experts warn that reducing the U.K.'s social distancing rules from two metres heightens the risk of spreading the disease. They suggest wearing masks and avoiding prolonged face-to-face encounters for added protection.

However, Page is ready to get back to work — at least outdoors.

"The staff are all happy to operate on all the usual precautions in terms of masks and regular washing of hands, et cetera…. And we'll obviously set it up so that there is distance between people who are not the same family group," he said.

"I think with outside drinking, certainly I wouldn't have a problem opening."

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

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