PUB staff are worried their “home” is going to lose its atmosphere and character when it changes hands in March.

The Great Eastern in Trafalgar Street, Brighton, has been leased by small pub business Pleisure for more than 20 years.

But the owner, a large pub lease company called EI Group, wants to have it back once the contract ends in a couple of months.

It is also looking to take back award-winning pubs Saint James in St James’s Street and The Office in Sydney Street which are also under Pleisure’s lease.

Great Eastern regulars are horrified their pub might lose its great atmosphere in the change.

Now drinks writer and pub lover Andy Burnyeat has launched an online petition to “keep the Great Eastern great”.

In just two days it has received more than 2,000 signatures.

The petition aims to save The Great Eastern by demonstrating the scale of public support for the pub and convince the landlords to renew the lease at the end of its term.

Nick Griffin, managing director of Pleisure, has been overwhelmed by the level of support.

He said: “We are incredibly saddened by this turn of events and the actions of our landlords, EI Group.

“The Great Eastern is an institution. The encouragement we have received from our customers, through messages on social media and their support of the online petition, has filled me with pride.

“Knowing that there is such strength of feeling in the city has made me all the more determined to find a solution, to ensure we keep the Great Eastern and our other pubs the special places they are known and loved for being.”

Nick said the idea of a large corporate company trying to run a small, characterful pub seemed unlikely and he fears what it could become.

Emma Shepherd who has been managing the Great Eastern for more than six years said the place feels like home. She said: “It’s home for me and it’s home for the staff. And most likely the regulars. None of us want it to change.

“We are renowned for our amazing whisky collection and the knowledge that we have of our products.”

Emma said the staff were keeping their fingers tightly crossed that EI Group will not make drastic changes to the Great Eastern if the petition doesn’t succeed in stopping the move.

She said: “From what we have seen when pubs are taken over in Brighton, they are never the same. They lose their character and just become more generic. It would be great for EI to see how much of an importance this pub is to the community. The feel of it is irreplaceable.”

Regular pubgoer Simon Watson said: “My best friend has worked there for a few years now and another one of my old friends put in years developing the place.

“I really hope that the Great Eastern can be saved from becoming housing or a gastro-winebar.”

An EI spokesman said: “We are in ongoing dialogue with the current publican with regards to their expiring lease at The Great Eastern. We would like to reassure customers that we are committed to ensuring that this site remains an attractive and thriving pub at the heart of the local community.”