Having been assured the Government’s furlough scheme cleared staff to volunteer for Chestnut’s community initiatives, Turner outlined plans to continue running takeaway services from the company’s pubs with any revenue going to charitable causes and the NHS.
“Our top priority is to protect the livelihoods of our team – that’s number one,” Turner told The Morning Advertiser (MA). “Once we’ve got clarification about that, we'll start adapting to ensure that only those people within our business who voluntarily want to do something can come and do it.
“We’re then going to start looking at what we can do using our properties, how they can be vehicles for community-based initiatives, and whether or not there is any way we can use them to generate something we can either give back to the local community or to the NHS.
“Priority number two will be ensuring that, from a management perspective, we are doing everything that we should be doing or need to be doing to protect our business for the next three to six months in the event that, in the worst-case scenario, we are still under restricted trading activity for longer than three months.
“Then the third thing we’ll start doing is working towards what we look like and how we re-engage our stakeholders – guests, shareholders and team – to ensure we’re best positioned to relaunch the business in the right position, in the right place, at the right time.”
Opportunity to do something
The move is not the first time the operator has chosen to recognise NHS workers. The group pledged to give half-price meals to health service staff throughout January in appreciation of their work during the festive period.
According to Turner, Chestnut – which acquired its first Norfolk pub in early March 2020 – initially “threw” itself into community and takeaway initiatives after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on pubs to close on 20 March, including organised walks with complimentary sausage rolls, while allowing people to observe social distancing rules.
“As soon as we found the world was changing, we needed to adapt our business,” he explained. “Within about 24 hours, we launched takeaway menus across all 11 of our properties and organised village shop activity in two of them. This was a point in time when supermarkets had empty shelves and we had no issues with our supply chain so we used that to provide local communities with basic provisions. In terms of revenue it was small, but it was community-spirited.”
Though initial uncertainty over the ins and outs of the Government’s furlough scheme caused the group to briefly apply the brakes, clarification that furloughed employees can take part in voluntary work or training – so long as it doesn’t provide services or generate revenue for, or on behalf of the organisation – has encouraged Turner to refocus on the group’s charitable causes.
“Following the release of additional information at the back end of last week, we’re gradually working with all of our teams to put in place what will be non-profit activity whereby we will be providing a service to the community and, if there is any profit, we’ll be seeking to contribute that back into the NHS. It will be a community-based initiative rather than a revenue-based one.
“We need to sell a lot of burgers in a box to make it make financial sense. Consequently, there comes a point in time where you say ‘I'm not doing this as a revenue-generating initiative, I’m doing this because I want to be giving something back, and providing workers who want to be doing something with the opportunity to do something given the property and facilities we have at our disposal’.”