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Road out of lockdown: Orbit Brewery says expansion is still on the horizon despite revenue dropping 90% in March 2020

When his revenue dropped by 90% overnight on March 23, 2020, Robert Middleton also dropped his plans to expand his London brewery, Orbit Beers, instead focusing on online sales to survive the crisis.

Now he has decided to throw everything into carrying on his dream and growing the Walworth-based business.

“At the end of last year, I said that we could dig a trench and hide until this is all over, or we can start building again,” he explained.

“The world will come back to life and we want to be ready. I would rather give it and go and fail than wait.

“What’s the point of surviving the downturn if we end up missing the upturn? That to me would be illogical and an even bigger business risk. Things will get better and we are going for it.’

The former actuary from Dundee switched careers relatively recently, after moving to London from Edinburgh in 2006. Orbit is based in Walworth’s Fielding Street, in railway arches rented from The Arch Company.

“I had rarely ventured south of the river – this was a new world to me. I knew nothing about the area but I wanted somewhere central and arches offer that option,” he says on setting up the business.

Orbit’s first beer was produced on July 1, 2014 and by 2017 they had added a neighbouring arch to the business and were growing at 25 per cent a year. He had a business partner and cash for expansion ready for the next phase when lockdown hit.

Apart from furloughing staff, Orbit Beers has had very little financial help to get through the restrictions. They have been paying all of their rent and rates in full, and then in September 2020 a planned three-yearly review doubled the rent for their newer arch.

Robert now plans to open a brewery bar in one new arch in May, and if that goes well, a new brewery later in the year, doubling their capacity and footprint.

“I think this year is still going to be pretty tough,” Robert said. “I don’t think we will get back to normality until next year.

“While it’s great to have a forward-looking ethos, you still have to have money coming into the bank.

“We did everything we could to stay afloat and we are still here, still with our whole team intact.

“Orbit means too much to us to let it fail and I won’t ever let that happen.”

If you run a small business in Southwark, let us know your plans:

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Boris Johnson, pictured in March

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