DORSET brewer Hall & Woodhouse faces a “hard” winter but is in a “very strong position to tough it out”, its chairman has said.

The 243-year-old family business has published accounts for the year ending January 25, 2020, which show ongoing pre-tax profits were down 1.2 per cent to £6.9million.

Turnover was up by 1.3 per cent to £5.94m.

Chairman Anthony Woodhouse said in his report: “This was despite a challenging trading environment, particularly over the autumn where poor weather and the chronic political uncertainty adversely affected trading.”

Mr Woodhouse said his team “could not have done a better job in getting the company into battle formation” for the first lockdown in March.

“They then successfully managed the reopening of our pubs safely, with the priority of protecting our team members and guests. They have rightly earned plaudits from both within and outside the industry for how our teams, our business partners and our communities have been, and continue to be, supported during the crisis,” he said.

He added: “This combined has put us in a much better position than we forecast we might be in these circumstances, with borrowings held at levels similar to last year, notwithstanding the pubs being closed throughout lockdown.

“However, we have to be realistic that this winter will be hard for us all, as the second lockdown illustrates. Despite this, we are in the privileged position that our business has been built over many generations, with us owning the vast majority of our pubs and having limited borrowings. We are therefore in a very strong position to tough it out, balancing the needs of the company with looking after our teams and our business partners as well as we possibly can.

“The pandemic has accelerated a number of trends (e.g. home working, staycations, sense of community, demise of the high street) that had already heavily influenced our long-term thinking and our growth strategy. This, combined with our existing superb high-quality pub estate and teams, means that we are well positioned to rebuild trade and grow rapidly when the crisis is over.”

He said the performance was “testament to the planning, skill and hard work” of the team under managing director Matt Kearsey.

Badger Beers and the soft drink brand Rio had performed “excellently” in retail sales during lockdown, while the online service Badger Direct got off to an “excellent start”.

Mr Woodhouse said 2019 was “always planned to be a year of change” at the company, with a transition to a new generation of leaders and the “next iteration of its long-term strategy”.

“Despite these distractions, ongoing pre-tax profits of just under £7mwere generated for the year ended January 2020. This was broadly level with the previous one that had seen substantial growth. Net debt was reduced by £6million to £50.6million,” he added.