THE past year has been a distressing game of “Hokey Cokey” for pubs across the country, none more so than in Bradford.

While many establishments down south were able to open and serve alcohol in some shape or form as recently as December, the drinking holes in our city have been running dry for weeks now.

Christmas and New Year's Eve is usually a crucial period for the industry, with people frequenting pubs more often in Winter as cold nights encroach and festivities settle in.

However that was put to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic, when many believed back in the summer that things might be returning to some form of normality come the end of 2020.

Bev Clarkson, who runs The Alexandre in Idle, said the Christmas season without pubs has been difficult to comprehend.

She added: "Strange is an understatement and the last few weeks have been incredibly frustrating knowing how much business we have lost, but also there feels like a huge hole in the community and the sense of Christmas spirit.

"We had budgeted for a huge Christmas, especially given the significant investment in January (2020) with our refit, and had several live acts lined up, along with plenty of festive events.

"The financial impact is significant and not just for us but everyone in the supply chain and those who rely on the industry for work i.e. DJs and entertainers."

It brings to a close what has a been a rocky year for the industry, particularly in Bradford where citizens and business owners have faced the brunt of restrictions at each stage of change and adaptation.

Pub doors were first slammed shut back in March, when the whole country was plunged into a full lockdown.

The Alexandre had just finished a huge refurbishment and had a grand reopening when the pandemic became a real prospect in the UK.

Many adapted - starting delivery services and offering takeaway alcohol.

Some, such as Saltaire Brewery, already had the infrastructure needed in place to do this, while others resorted to taking the plunge for the first time.

One Bradford landlord admitted later in the year that this had provided a lifeline for his pub and many others, amid the Government’s decision to ban takeout alcohol for the country’s second lockdown - a move which was quickly overturned.

Miguel Schreck, who runs The New Inn in Wilsden, said: "Takeouts are what kept the wolves from the door."

This new normal for pubs throughout the period between March and July even made its way onto our television screens - with the Rovers Return on Coronation Street offering a takeaway only service when the cameras got rolling.

Optimism filled the air in the summer when pubs were allowed to reopen once again, albeit with strict guidelines and rules in place.

This included, social distancing, only two households allowed to meet (in groups of no more than six), no orders taken at the bar and a track and trace system in place.

Mrs Clarkson declared at the time that July 4 - better known as Independence Day in America - would take on its own meaning in the UK.

The landlady announced early doors in June that The Alexandre was aiming to open on that historic day, after - as all other pubs were - being guided by the Government to do so.

She said: “This is a bit of a moving target but hopefully with the progress that has been made, July 4 will have a new significance in the UK.”

The grand reopening of drinking holes did come to fruition on that famous of days, but it was very shortlived for those in Bradford.

A number of wards in the city had local restrictions imposed from as early as the start of August, preventing people from socialising with others outside their own households.

The whole of Bradford was subjected to the same treatment from Tuesday, September 22.

A tier system - similar to the one we know now - was then introduced and Bradford's pubs once again lost as the goalposts were shifted too quickly for businesses to adapt.

The most poignant example of this came in November.

Bradford had been in Tier 2, but it was announced the city would move into Tier 3 from Monday, November 2.

The Government’s guidance at the time stipulated that a pub, restaurant, or bar could only continue to serve alcohol if it was alongside a substantial meal, under the expected Tier 3 regulations.

Many business owners, including Mrs Clarkson of The Alexandre, had ordered in extra food stock in anticipation of the change in rules.

But in a last minute emergency press conference on the evening of Saturday, October 31, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed the whole country would be under the grip of a four week lockdown from Thursday, November 5 instead.

Bizarrely, this meant Bradford's tier change was scrapped and so pubs were left with excess food stock, and beer, as there was no expectation that they would not be able to stay open even in Tier 3.

Adapting in this way and implementing restrictions in the summer has cost pubs across Bradford a huge amount of money, time and energy.

This, and the continued unknown, has left Mrs Clarkson feeling angry, as she reflects on 2020.

She said: "What really hits hard though is the knowledge that we have invested so much in creating a safe environment, following every single rule and being more accountable than any other sector yet we are the first to feel the impact of restrictions.

"The government approach is, in my view flawed, lacking logic and almost vindictive to a sector that has been the most compliant throughout - their own data shows pubs, restaurants etc. are only a minor source of infection."

There are now two approved vaccines, which provides optimism as we begin our first steps into 2021.

But we have been here before and Mrs Clarkson is struggling to get excited just yet.

The Alexandre landlady believes it will be the summer before any pub can look to trade properly again and fears for many establishments in the area who "may never open their doors again" without changes.

She said: "I think 2021 will be a very tough first quarter and unless pubs are allowed to open without the restrictions associated with a substantial meal, many will choose to stay closed.

"It simply is not viable financially, since many customers only want a few drinks and the by-product of food waste is a real concern.

"Ironically I reckon because of the measures and controls most in the sector have adopted, we are probably one of the safest places to be.

"It looks very much as if any relaxation of rules will be tied to the pace of vaccinations, so we could be looking at the summer for any real chance to trade fully (maybe July 4 Mark II).

"I think I will most be looking forward to seeing the pub full and vibrant again as well as returning to some of our community spirit and feel."