A HISTORIC pub that has been the hub of community life in a North Wales dating back to 1780 has endured one of its most challenging years.

The Cross Foxes, an independent in the village of Nannerch, owned by Janet and Tim Costidell, has been selected as one of 99 small businesses worldwide to receive a £12,000 grant to refresh themselves after a difficult year.

Like many independent pub landlords in the UK, Janet and Tim were hit hard by the pandemic.

A lot of the population of The Cross Foxes’ village is elderly, and Janet and Tim kept themselves busy during lockdown offering takeaway meals and collecting prescriptions for villagers.

Despite this, their business is still struggling as habits have changed hugely in the pub going community.

But unexpected support from global firm Vistaprint's 99 Days of Design initiative, which selected Janet and Tim as one of 99 small businesses around the world it aims to support, means the post-lockdown future is looking brighter for the Cross Foxes.

Janet described how, pre-lockdown, the traditional pub was the heart of the village.

Janet said: "My husband and I took over the licence on the first of January, 2013. It was at a bit of a low point at the time but we built it back up and it became a real, thriving hub of the community. We have customers of all ages, all different types of people, its a really, great family and community hub.

"We have the local drama group, we have a group of older gentlemen who come in every Wednesday who call themselves the 'Old Farts', the PTA - everyone uses the pub.

"We are a small rural village here so the only facilities we have are the village hall, the school and the church, there's no shop, so the pub is really the main social hub.

"We started doing food shortly after we took over the pub and have done it ever since."

But then lockdown came.

It was a blow at first, but Janet and Tim were supported by the village and in turn worked hard to support those who needed help.

Janet added: "I can remember vividly watching the report on the TV, with Boris Johnson saying that we were going to close. It was like having the rug pulled out from under our feet.

"The villagers were great though, we had people offering to lend us money and offering to help us out. We had about a week doing nothing - working in a pub is a hard life, you work all hours, and suddenly we were doing nothing. Then we decided that this wasn't the way to go. So we decided to open a shop. We opened it in the pub using the bar fridges. We did food deliveries, collected prescriptions for people, all kinds of things to keep ourselves busy."

Towards the end of 2020, the pub was open again, but with strict social distancing and other covid measures in place.

As they looked forward to spending the Christmas and New Year with friends in the pub, the second lockdown came into effect.

Janet said: "We got close to Christmas and had to go back into lockdown again. Although it had never got back to normal. When you are constantly having to police people about whether they are wearing masks, where they are sitting, it's really not the same. We got through that, but the second lockdown was bad. We had to pick up where we had left off and we really didn't know how long we would be in lockdown for.

"It was more difficult. I think by that time our enthusiasm was fading and it was really hard."

As difficult as things got, Janet and Tim never thought of closing their business for good.

"We were fairly sure we'd be able to carry on, we always intended to," Janet added.

"We only came to the village because of the pub and there was no way we were going to let it go under. We were always going to be there."

Then, in May, pubs were able to welcome customers back.

However, it wasn't business as usual.

Janet said: "It's been much better. The only thing is we've noticed that people's drinking habits have changed. People are now coming out early and leaving early. For a lot of people, it's a traditional thing, if they can't sit at the bar they don't want to come in. So people who would before come in and stay until ten at night, now sit outside and have two drinks then go home. It's changed across the board as far as I can see."

Janet and Tim have used time in lockdown to refurbish the pub. But it was an email that came out of the blue one day that is enabling them to make the changes they want to refresh the Cross Foxes in preparation for business post-lockdown.

Janet said: "We were contacted by email, and were totally surprised and thrilled to be chosen. We are a small business and for such a big firm to notice us and select us for this made us really happy.

"During the last lockdown we used our time to modernise the lounge, we have lifted the whole image of the place. We are looking forward to having the rebranding, the new logos, and lift the image of the pub.

"Hopefully people will be surprised and like it. It looks vastly different, but that's what I wanted it to be. I'm really pleased and proud of it.

"One of the ways we are looking to use the grant is to update our computer and till systems. We are still using one of the old-style tills - our whole operation is run on bits of paper. So we are hoping to update that."

99 Days of Design:

Vistaprint is working with The Cross Foxes as part of its ‘99 Days of Design’ initiative, which aims to empower 99 small businesses around the world with financial support and refreshed design identities.

The programme, officially launched by 99designs by Vistaprint, is focused on businesses from 12 countries: the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, and Australia. Each of the 14 UK small businesses will receive a refreshed brand identity and marketing materials, as well as a £12,000 donation to help their business evolve during this time of continued change and opportunity for innovation. Of the UK businesses supported, they are all representative of the small business we see across our most crucial industries - such as wellness, fitness, health and wellbeing, pubs and restaurants, and creatives and makers.

Emily Shirley, general manager of Vistaprint UK and Ireland said: “We’re excited to offer this unique opportunity to 99 businesses from all around the world, including 14 based in the UK, to help fulfil their business dreams, increase sales and build their customer relationships by supporting impactful design resources.

“After the world spent much of last year adapting to a ‘new normal’, we know from our own research this year that the UK is more inclined to shop small than ever before, as over half (52%) of Brits are making more of an effort to support their local small businesses. We’re intrigued to see where our journey with our UK-based businesses will take us, following these design transformations and seeing their innovation and journey shown through our partnership with Huck.”

Janet and Tim said: “We plan to use the grant from Vistaprint to bring our business more up to date. We would love to use the grant and design support to improve the energy efficiency of a 200-year-old pub and make it greener with the use of renewable energy.

"I feel we will have some work to do to build our business up to pre-Covid levels, which is where Vistaprint's grant will be a great help.”