Regulars at popular Hearts pub in Edinburgh donate nearly £10k to keep bar in business

The regulars of one of Edinburgh's best known pubs have donated almost £10,000 out of their own pockets to help keep their famous local in business.

The Athletic Arms - nicknamed the Diggers - is a popular with sports fans who flock there before Hearts games at Tynecastle Park and international rugby matches at Murrayfield.

Famous Diggers customers over the years include X -Men lead James McAvoy, Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh and Rebus star Ken Stott.

The banning of live sport during the current lockdown has cost the Ardmillan pub tens of thousands of pounds in vital revenue.

By the end of last week £9,522 has been raised by 277 customers with individual cash donations of up to £300.

However Diggers owner Kevin McGhee, 40, has refused to put staff on unpaid leave and has continued to pay their full wages out of his dwindling cash reserves.

Last month ( March) after a request from regulars he launched a crowdfunding campaign where customers could donate money to keep the pub afloat and continue to pay staff wages.

By the end of last week £9,522 has been raised by 277 customers with individual cash donations of up to £300.

Regulars have also raised funds by purchasing pub memorabilia, and buying pints in advance at £4 a time for when the Digger's reopens.

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Kevin says customers cash will provide the business with a valuable financial safety net and enable them to keep paying staff.

He added:"I've been astounded and humbled by the response from our regulars.

"The most important thing was to ensure our staff were being being paid that's why we set up the Crowdfunding page.

"I love the Diggers, it’s the customers who make it special. We aren’t part of a chain and very much part of the community.

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"I was asked by our customers if I would set launch a Crowdfunding appeal because they wanted to do their bit to ensure the survival of their local.

"Right from the start our staff knew they would be paid for as long as I could.

"However I knew I would run out of money at one stage and that was where the customers stepped in.

"All our forecasts and plans were that we would be closed for at least 12 weeks thinking we would be last and now we are being told it could be as late as Christmas.

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"That makes this overwhelmingly generous response from our customers all the more welcome."

The pub is next to a large cemetery and thirsty gravediggers used to flock there at the end of their shift - which earned it the Diggers nickname.

If promised government funding for small businesses comes through Kevin says he will return any unused donations to customers.

The Diggers also sponsors several Hearts players and was named BT Sport pub of the month for the UK in 2018.

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It was also shortlisted that same year for UK rugby pub of the year.

Paul Waterson, spokesman for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, added: "I like the idea of crowdfunding. It shows that the entrepreneurial sprinter is still there.

"The Diggers is world renowned and it's support like this from customers that has made it a legend amongst pubs.

"This is a very difficult time for the licensed trade and many will struggle to survive the lockdown."

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