THE Railway Hotel team is saying farewell to their beloved venue after more than 13 years.

Here, manager James Vessey-Miller writes of the highs and lows, sharing his final goodbye to the Southend institution. 

By now you will have already read the news that The Railway Hotel has run out of steam.

The company that facilitates this Southend institution has drawn grinding to a halt and has collapsed under the weight of unbearable pressures and almost un-tradable circumstances.

Put simply, the money has run dry, and there’s now no route out. Despite best efforts, the company is insolvent and is soon to be in liquidation.

Here, prematurely ends a remarkable chapter in Southend’s history.


It will of course come as no surprise to you revealing that The Railway has been struggling financially for a very long time.

In fact, the difficult business circumstances in late 2018 were precisely the reason I became involved in early 2019.

Echo: The outside of the pubThe outside of the pub

Following the pub’s temporary closure in 2018, there were no guarantees it would last forever, but what we did have on our side was a dedicated team of people who through a tremendous amount of effort and determination kept the machinery running and the doors open.

Miraculously, by the start of last year, The Railway was in the healthiest position it had been in for quite some time.

Thanks to a monumental amount of work put in by the team through the latter half of 2019, almost all of the pub’s long-term crippling supplier debts had been repaid by February ‘20, and we had a good roadmap for how we were going to continue.

Our outlook was bright and we were confident that on this new trajectory, we could secure the pub’s future.

As I write this, we have been open and trading for only three of the past 12 months.

Many live music venues across the country much bigger than ours have already fallen victim to this crisis.

At The Railway, every measure was taken to generate revenue throughout lockdowns, be it food and beer deliveries. We did all we could to keep the vibrant community of musicians at the forefront of minds.

Every day of the pub’s first four-month closure was used to rebuild, paint, renovate, and ready the pub for its reopening.

When we did reopen, we proudly placed community safety as our number one priority.

We remained shut for an additional month solely because we wanted to ensure we were doing it the safest way we could.

Major milestones that in late 2018 would have seemed impossible we achieved in the face of the challenges of lockdown.

Major renovation work to the inside and outside of the pub was completed, and we even managed to reinstate the pub’s award-winning Vegan kitchen to its full-flying former glory.

Echo: The teamThe team

The energy within the team to make the pub work despite the horrendous challenges of 2020 can’t be understated, and that optimism and enthusiasm are what makes today’s news so bitterly gut-wrenching.

Over 75 per cent of our £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, and Leisure Grant went directly to the rent our brewery charged us during the lockdown and other related expenses.

The further restrictions placed on the pub industry in late September by the government took a further deflating erosion into our already dwindling sales.

Pre-Covid, the Railway had a capacity of circa-360 persons which we would meet regularly. Upon reopening, our capacity was just 40 people; 80 if the weather allowed people to sit in the garden.

Running at a quarter of our usual capacity, and facing a dual-threat of being forced to close at 10pm and people slowly running out of disposable income meant that our ‘managed decline’ rapidly became a sinking ship.

Despite this, we continued regardless to host Covid-compliant live music gigs. We continued to pay our staff a meaningful living wage.

We ensured that every paycheck was paid in full and on time. every supplier was paid in full upfront, and at no junction did we ever consider screwing anyone over to save the business.

Potentially trivial things now the business has collapsed, but at least we walk away with some integrity and pride that what we did was good even up to the last day.

I remember with quite some bitter resentment when we finally admitted to ourselves that things looked terminal in September and we approached our brewery for help - being told by our brewery representative “the chancellor said that not every business can be saved”; words that indeed attribute responsibility for the crisis our industry faces solely at the doors of our inept and dangerously uncaring government. 

Think not that the real-time vandalism of our cultural and hospitality industries is anything other than a political decision taken gleefully by this Conservative government wielding a ‘not viable’ stamp.

For 13 years this one pub has been the lightning rod for some of the most important meetings, events, and performances in the town. 

Fag-packet pub brainstorming, chance encounters, drunken debates, and the most diverse crowd in the town resulted in over a decade of new ideas, new music, innovative art, thought-provoking creativity, meaningful discussion, and the most eclectic ensemble of visionary community cohesion possible. 

Light-years ahead of what Southend was ready for, this one organisation has daringly pushed boundaries and been a safe space for the ‘others’ of the town. 

One of the first wholly Vegetarian and latterly Vegan restaurants in the county; one of the dwindling few unapologetically live music pubs left; a pub that defied the odds by not only existing and surviving but by thriving. 

But beyond all of that, the indisputable legacy of David & Fiona Dulake’s Railway is that it was a kind business. 

So much of what The Railway did and stood by never made the business money. 

Support for the arts, hosting community groups, and almost weekly charity events stood the pub out from the uncaring crowd. 

We fed the homeless thousands of hot dinners via our suspended meals scheme.

We proudly supported adults with learning difficulties by hosting regular accessible and open-mic music events, and by for many years hosting a community growing garden tended by those same folks. 

The Railway was always proud to have been a compassionate and caring part of our local community, and moreover, a responsible and ethical business. 

So often we did what was right not because it made us money, but because the right thing is always worth doing, whatever the cost. 

That is a commendable track record that I am honoured to have been a part of. 

Many people have suggested that hosting a fundraising drive or starting a crowdfunder might be a route to bridge this difficult gap in trade, but we will not be following that route. 

In all honesty, the costs involved in just continuing to pay the bills through this will far exceed any amount we’re likely to raise, and even if we do manage to raise the funds to foot the bills for a few months, we’re sitting on the very tip of the iceberg of what will be an astronomically-difficult few years of recession-hit trading. 

Simply, this country might not have a nightlife or entertainment economy left after all of this, and we’re no longer in the financial situation to be able to take that gamble.

Moreover, in a time when most folks have no money and far more worthy businesses and charities are in dire need of support, we wouldn’t be able to take the money with a clear conscience knowing that we might just be kicking the metaphorical can down the road and denying more deserving groups of vital funds.

Please give your support to our town’s other independent businesses and charities; they’re in no better situation than we are. 

I am immeasurably proud to have been part of The Railway and its legacy, and I am glad to have played my small part in keeping the place open for those additional two years beyond what was thought possible. 

Dave & Fi deserve all the praise for creating, curating, and fostering what The Railway was, and I consider myself exceptionally privileged to have been able to be part of that incredible story.

As for the pub itself, few routes remain open in keeping the town’s best-loved venue open and trading. 

We’ve spent the last six months trying multitudes of ways to keep the flame alight; despite offers of direct purchase and lease transfer, our brewery has rejected every offer we, and others, have made. 

With enough investment, it can undoubtedly remain one of the jewels in Southend’s crown, and I personally have the enthusiasm to run it for another 15 fifteen years if given the opportunity, but alas the feeling is not reciprocated. 

There is some small hope in another person taking the pub over, but the brewery has to date rejected every offer he has made. 

As it stands, the pub is now sadly at significant risk of becoming another vapid lifeless chain pub, devoid of character, originality, or local community outreach. 

Failing that outcome, one of Southend’s most iconic heritage buildings is now at risk of becoming simply housing.

I fear that one of the only routes remaining to ensure the building survives as something other than flats is to pursue an ACV listing.

That decision firmly lies in the hands of our local council now, and that’s a conversation I’m happy to have with the council should they want to talk about it.

It goes without saying that this news comes as a tremendous personal loss to myself and Reece and the many staff who worked as part of our team.

In these past months, we’ve personally lost our home and our dream, and I feel a horrendous sense of loss also for the two radio stations, the hundreds of bands, and thousands of patrons who happily called the Railway their home too.

Please be kind over these next few weeks as myself and the other staff grieve and attempt to find our feet in the midst of a global pandemic.

Please spare a thought today for those amazing few who worked for The Railway, as they’ll now be seeking alternative employment. I am happy to personally endorse any one of our team, and I’m keen to see their exceptional talents utilised locally. Please keep an eye out and forward any news of jobs for them. 

I have ideas and energy, and I’m confident that whatever it is to come next will be magical. 

I want to round this off positively by saying that while the building may be shut for good, the spirit of what the Railway and its extended family was and is will endure.

There will always be room for compassionate, ethical, and independent businesses, and despite this setback, you can’t stop rock and roll.