Thanks to the flooding from Storm Dennis and the onset of Covid-19 lockdown, residents of Treorchy in Wales’s Rhondda Valley still haven’t been able visit the Lion to raise a glass to the former coal town’s high street being crowned Britain’s best in late January.
Instead, Adrian Emmett – who in his nine years of running the pub has transformed it from a boarded-up ex-boozer into an award-winning community hub at the heart of Britain’s champion high street – has had to furlough his staff and batten down the hatches to fight for his pub’s very survival.
However, the regular Great British Pub Award finalist – shortlisted for Best Local in the 2019 gongs and winner of Ei Pub of the Year in 2018 – is battling for its future and that of its community.
“I’m trading at the moment as a delivery service for food,” Emmett tells The Morning Advertiser (MA). “We do Sunday lunches, corned beef pies, lasagnes, dressed salads and pastas – which we deliver daily.
“For me, it’s about creating a small income for now to survive this period, but the main reason is to be there for the community, to offer service. The Lion is a proper community pub and we need to be there more than anything now for our community.”
Offering local businesses a lifeline
In a bid to ensure the survival of not only his own award-winning high street and community but others across the UK, Emmett – who in addition to running the Lion, chairs the local Pubwatch scheme, chamber of trade and filled out Treorchy’s Great British High Street Awards application personally – has helped create a new app to take small, independent businesses online.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” he tells MA. “It’s launching in Treorchy and has already got eight local authorities that have shown support as well as a number of business improvement districts and chambers of trade.
“It’s starting in the champion high street but is then going to be rolled out – for free – across as many towns in the UK that want it.”
Working with local entrepreneur Victoria Mann from digital high street app NearMeNow, Emmett has helped 20 businesses from Treorchy’s high street open their digital doors during shutdown with a voucher system that allows locals to make bookings with local services for when lockdown ends.
“We’ve been talking for year and a half about developing a high street app that wouldn’t just be for one high street but for every high street,” he explains. “Because of the coronavirus outbreak, Vicky created a very simple version of that app called ITownNow.
“We’re saying ‘be there for us now so we can still be there for you later’. A local hairdresser can take bookings and payment now for appointments for when they reopen. It gives them a lifeline.
“What we’ve found is you’ve got businesses that are struggling – local, independent businesses that might not see it through this – but you’ve also then got a community that would like to support local businesses but don’t know how. That’s where this app comes in.”
Drinking is secondary
On a local level, the Lion’s tireless community-focused response to the Covid-19 outbreak minus fanfare or fuss has been very much in character for the award-winning pub, which is home to 15 sport teams, more than a dozen local groups and regular fundraiser for local charities to which it has donated approximately £30,000 to date.
What’s more, with hospital canteens shut and front-line staff required to bring in their own packed lunches, the Lion has made numerous deliveries to local NHS workers.
“Obviously there’s the delivery side of things but we’ve also got links with about 20 or 30 different vulnerable people that we keep close tabs on,” Emmett says. “But also people used to come to the pub not so much for a drink – that was secondary – they used to come for the community feel and the interaction, being part of something... people forget that.
“Pubs are a big part of helping people with loneliness – especially the elderly. We need to try to maintain that so there are a lot of members the community that we’ve stayed in touch with.”
Sadly, Treorchy hasn’t been immune to Covid-19 with Emmett admitting that the hardest part of his pub being closed is the inability offer support in person for members of his community during what have, for many, been the worst of times.
“I know three or four different people who have sadly passed away in the past two weeks and we’re not able to come together as a community to pay our respects, to mourn, because we are behind closed doors,” he explains.
“There’s an old gentleman across the road from us who passed away who we’ve taken food to and looked after – his wife couldn’t even see him in his last week. We can’t go to that funeral.
“One of the business owners in the town passed away and what we did, as a business community, was we all stood on our doorsteps to watch the funeral go past because half the family couldn’t go.
“For me, the hardest part is not being there for people. When times are good and times are bad, people migrate to the pub – it’s where you drown a few sorrows or celebrate – and we’re not there for the community right now because we can’t be.”
Ready to come out of the blocks
From a business perspective, while Emmett explains that watching beer go down the drain was a difficult moment during his pub’s closure, he admits that seeing the Lion’s immediate future being taken out of his hands has been a difficult experience.
“For nine years, I’ve been master of my own destiny,” he says. “This is my business, I’m lucky enough that I do something I love but also that has a wider benefit to a community.
“I’ve been here nine years and built this business up. My friends and family come in every day. It’s not just a business, it’s a social centre, the hub of the community, it’s somewhere they all came to interact as part of their day-to-day lives and they’re lost without it.”
However, Emmett is upbeat about his pub’s prospects when they are given the green light to reopen post-pandemic.
“I always like to keep busy. At the moment, I’m struggling to find things to keep me busy, so I’m looking forward to being back open and making a difference again in the community and seeing people’s faces when they walk through the door – their home away from home is open again.
“We are going to come out of this. So what I’m doing now is using this time to strengthen my business. We’re fixing everything that needs fixing, preparing new food menus, drinks menus – we’re trying to keep ourselves match-fit so when we come out of this, we’re coming out of the blocks.”