How one Banbury pub is making changes to survive the Covid-19 pandemic

A Banbury pub has found itself making changes to adapt to what many are calling a new normal in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Gail and Dave Gilkes, who run the Banbury Cross pub in Butchers Row of the town centre with their dog, Bolin
Gail and Dave Gilkes, who run the Banbury Cross pub in Butchers Row of the town centre with their dog, Bolin

The Banbury Cross pub has had to fully shut during the lockdown periods, unlike many others in the hospitality industry because does not serve food.

But Gail and Dave Gilkes, who run the Banbury Cross pub in Butchers Row of the town centre have a plan, which has involved making multiple changes to the pub to adapt and survive the ongoing pandemic.

Gail said: "For us there won't be any normal until we can have live music and dancing again. I think our return to normal is a little while off, but there is a new normal. There has been a little bit of chair dancing."

Gilkos Soul Room at the Banbury Cross Pub

The Banbury Cross pub is known as a music and sport venue.

They've spent most of the second lockdown cleaning and decorating for the upcoming Christmas holiday season, typically one of the busiest times of the year.

But primarily they have made changes to accommodate people who prefer to sit outside at a pub, no matter the season or weather on the day. They have put up several marquees and added portable heaters for their outdoor seating area.

Gail said: "It gets full up in here quite quickly. Some people also think it's safer outside now too. So we need to make sure it is as comfortable as possible.

Gail and Dave Gilkes stand next to a mural in the pub's garden painted during the first Covid-19 lockdown by local artist, Steve 'Digger' Gardner.

Dave added: "We've put up extra TVs in the garden area. There are certain customers who like to have a fag while watching the football.

"We've made a lot more use of the outside space."

They have added five more tables outside in an area, which is now also partially covered with a marquee. They now capacity for 100 to 150 people to sit down inside, outside under the marquee and inside the soul room.

Gail added: "We're kind of a late night venue and bar really. We've had to fill the dance floor with tables to make more room for people to sit."

Gail and Dave Gilkes, who run the Banbury Cross pub in Butchers Row of the town centre, underneath one of the Marquees set up in the garden area of the pub

During the first lockdown they had the whole inside of the pub redecorated and painted.

Dave said: "It's a lot brighter. It's more modern, and up to date, well as much as you can for an old building."

The grade two listed building used to be used as an old coach house.

The pub now regularly holds music themed nights with everything from soul, to 80s and 90s nights to ska and reggae nights. Before the Covid-19 lockdowns they regularly host live music with bands performing at the pub.

Dave said: "I'm a DJ. I've been DJing since I was 13."

Dave and a few of his friends are members of the Banbury Soul Club, who also take part in some of the DJ events held at the pub.

Music, particularly soul music is an important part of the Banbury Cross pub. When Gail and Dave took over the pub nearly 20 months ago one of the first things they did was turn the unused old barn area in the back of the main pub into the soul room.

The pub hosted a 'soul day' during the August Bank Holiday weekend, which brought people in from out of town places like Leicester to attend the event.

They have also arranged a series music DJs to come in to the pub throughout the month of December.

Presuming pubs are allowed to reopen next month after the second lockdown they plan to host a Soul and Motown music night on Saturday December 5.

Dave said: "We don't charge for any of our events. There will be three DJs there that night all playing on vinyl."

There will be a SKA and reggae music night on December 12 and an 80's and 90's music night on December 19.

The pub also plans to host a New Year's Eve ticketed event in which details will be announced at a later date when more information is available from the government on what will be allowed for New Year's Eve celebrations.

They hope the government will allow pubs like theirs to reopen again next month in what is typically one of the busiest times of the year.

Gail said: "As soon as December hits people start going out for Christmas parties, and nights out."

Similar to the reopening after the first lockdown the hours of operation for the pub will be slightly amended next month. After the first lockdown they decided to close on Mondays and Tuesdays until things returned to normal.

They plan to be open from 5 to 10pm on Wednesday and Thursday and 11am to 10pm on Friday to Sunday.

Dave said: "A lot of it is playing it by ear, and seeing what the government will allow us to do."