UP CLOSE IN MALDON: A young first-time publican tells of his roller coaster year

  Posted: 10.04.21 at 09:30 by The Editor

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Maldon Nub News aims to be supportive to EVERY element of the community from business and shops to people and charities and clubs and sports organisations.

Everyone is finding it tough at the moment and wants life to get back to normal.

We will be profiling some of these local businesses and groups regularly over coming weeks in our UP CLOSE IN MALDON features in the hope that we can be a supportive springboard for your full return to life and business as usual.

Today we feature an interview with 29-year-old publican Conor Tillman, who had started to taste success with his very first pub when the pandemic struck.

A bold decision to take on his own business became more than a change in career for 29-year-old Conor Tillman – he became a publican in one of Maldon district’s village communities and with that took on a whole new lifestyle.

Of course, what Conor and girlfriend Alice Henley - who turned 28 this week - didn’t know when they took on The Prince of Wales pub in Great Totham on 7 January, 2019 was just what was waiting round the corner.

Conor and Milo

Conor explains: “I happened to meet with someone who had lost the enthusiasm for running the pub – and I just decided to give it a shot.”

It was a big change for Conor, who had been a project co-ordinator for a small business firm, but with determination to bring new life into the pub and make it a popular place once more, the first-time publican began to achieve great things.

“The first year was absolutely amazing,” Conor says, “we managed to claw back the custom that had been lost over time. In the first month sales went up by 33 per cent.”

When Covid-19 came along and the country went into a national lockdown in March, 2020, at first Conor was unsure if his new business venture would end much more quickly than he’d hoped.

“Then when we realised how long lockdown could last and before the grants and furlough were announced, we just didn’t know what the future would hold. Without those things, we couldn’t have made it.”

Nonetheless, it’s been a roller coaster ride for Conor and Alice.

The pub’s owner, Punch Pubs, froze rent payments for the first lockdown. Conor is full of praise for that – but, of course, those costs were just deferred and have had to be paid back. Then there were 1,100 pints of beer that he had to get rid of, though Conor was at least able to get a credit note for those. And all though this latest lockdown, the loss of income has continued.

“This lockdown has been a really long haul,” Conor admits, “and how things go over the next six to 12 months is going to be crucial.

“I can understand people wanting to get away to other countries,” he laughs, “but I hope they stay here and help rebuild our economy.”

Now the Prince of Wales will re-open the beer garden on Monday, 12 April.

Conor says: “We haven’t gone down the marquee route as it was just so expensive, so we’ve got large umbrellas and this lockdown has given us the chance to spruce up the garden, too.”

So what has been the biggest thing Conor has learned from the experience of being a young, first-time publican at a time like no other – and what would his message to everyone out there be?

“Being here has been life-changing,” Conor says with real conviction, “and the community here has been amazing. All the way through, we have had kindness and people who would do anything they could for us. It’s the customers who have kept us going – and made us want to keep going, too.
“I am confident that we can bounce back.

“And what I would say to people is: ‘just get down to your local pub’.

“The customers are our way forward now - and it’s all down to them, really.”

You can find the pub's website using the link here.

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