A MARRIED couple who began dating when they were teenagers and who have now worked together for years in the pub industry have just signed another seven-year lease on their pub and are determined to keep going.

The Dust Hole in Tollgate Road has been in the hands of Tony and Carol Harding for 17 years. The pub which is tucked away outside of the city centre dates back to 1847 and is also known as The Railway Inn. 

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Tony said: “There was a time when we thought about giving up but we have worked too hard for this. We love it here. It’s safe for women and men to come in on their own for a quiet drink and they feel comfortable here. But we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our regulars.

He said: “If it wasn’t for the government and the grants, we couldn’t have stayed open. Those grants paid for the electricity, and we had some savings which helped. We adapted during Covid and did fish and chips for the regulars and some people came into the pub garden once we were able to do that.”

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Carol said: “It’s a good old family pub and we are keeping our heads above water, but we are living day to day at the moment. We had to have a new contract for the electricity and are dreading the bill. We had signed up in February for a good price but the broker I used didn’t follow it up or log it, so we had no choice really.”

Some costs cannot be reduced.

Tony said: “We’ve got the cellar and refrigeration and condenser to keep on. When we switched it all off during covid, everything then broke. It was like starting again afterwards.

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To keep people coming in, they put on a variety of events throughout the year including a monthly quiz night, bi-annual darts knockouts and horse racing.

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Tony said: “We do something for Burns night and on St Georges's day, we have a panto performance and it’s based on all the mishaps that take place throughout the year. We do a music hall night too where regulars can come in and do something.

“We also put on a nostalgia nosh-up where we invite everyone to come in and bring their favourite dish and we provide the other bits and pieces. People can bring their old records and we have a record and cassette player.”

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The couple tried various social themes including a standard coffee morning and cakes.

Tony said: “We invited people to come and have a chat and a coffee, but no one was interested. It might have been too early after Covid, and people were still worried about mixing.”

The cost of living and high energy costs has placed pressure on the business.

Tony said: “I think people are spending a little bit less and I don’t blame them. I try to keep the prices right down, but if I put prices up, I feel like I am penalising the people who are supporting me if I do that. They are the ones who come in and support us.”

Carol said: “We’ll reassess our situation once the new lease is up, but I think we’ll just keep going for as long as we can.”