Fifty Wellington Pub Company tenants have formed an action group calling on their landlord to provide rent reliefs during the coronavirus crisis.
Alison Ward-Baptiste and her partner Alexander Venables took over the lease of a derelict property in Bradford on Avon five years ago, refurbished it at their own expense and opened as a The George, building a "fabulous business" from nothing through "sheer hard work and determination".
Despite the enforced shutdown last month, Ward-Baptiste claimed Wellington Pub Company - the largest free of tie pub estate in the UK which operates through Criterion Asset Management (CAM) – has said it will expect the next quarter's rent on 1 June.
The action group made up of tenants from across London, the south-east and Bristol has asked the pub group to rule out evictions or statutory demands for any non-payment of rent as well as extending leases by six to nine months and to renegotiate rents in line with future turnover while the pubs get back on their feet in the coming months.
Even when pubs are allowed to reopen, Ward-Baptiste anticipates a drastically reduced turnover and therefore believes it is unrealistic to be expected to pay the rent they were previously paying. "It would be nice to see our landlord reflect that. They can afford to take a hit. It's a drop in the ocean for them. We're not being unreasonable. There has been no communication from them."
She says the best chance of being able to trade again is to be offered the next three months rent-free. "We are simply waiting for someone to tell us what decision is but for the time being invoices are being issued for full rent amounts to all of Wellington's tenants."
At the end of last week, Wellington Pub Company published a statement on their website confirming they would not be taking any action with regard to rent arrears that may have arisen since the start of the crisis, but with the next rent quarter looming, Ward-Baptiste said this is not adequate.
"We need a solution that works for the industry as a whole and cannot rely on case-by-case special pleading", she said.
"All pubs are facing a bleak future right now and the industry needs to work together to find a way to keep us all afloat so that people have their favourite pubs to return to once it is safe to do so."
The tenant group has the support of local MP for Rutland and Melton, Alicia Kearns, who wrote to Jamie Reuben of CAM and received a statement saying that establishing agreements with tenants before further government updates would be "premature" and that given the "broad range of tenants" across their estate, a "one size fits all solution" would not be workable.