Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalists - Keeping the Community Entertained

By Ed Bedington contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Entertainment is a key part of our society, and with people suffering under the lockdown pubs up and down the country reached out to their communities to help connect and provide amusement and welcome relief.

From pub quizzes to live music and themed evenings, pubs have traditionally provided a wide range of entertainments to pull in the punters.

But with the lockdown impacting across the whole of society, those connections and opportunities to get out came crashing down. Fortunately, pubs stepped up to the challenge and with some stunning examples of innovation, brought entertainment and amusement to their communities and even further afield.

The Great British Pub Awards Pub Heroes 2020 saw a huge number of entries across a wide range of categories, and the Keeping the Community Entertained category, sponsored by Sky, was no exception.

Judges were given a challenging task of picking out six deserving finalists for the award from a strong field of contenders that worked their socks off to bring some light relief, welcome support and often just much-needed human contact to their customers.

Our six finalists for the Keeping the Community Entertained category are:


Phoenix Arts Club - London

Their story:

As a previous winner of GBPA ‘Entertainment Pub’ of the Year, we have quite a following for our live shows in our independent, creative hub of a pub. With close ties to the theatrical community of London we were as shaken as everyone to have to close in March. 

We removed £000’s of technical sound and lighting equipment from the venue and connected it all up in our home, immediately dubbed “The Phoenix Flat”. With only two flatmates, a couple of cameras and technical know-how, we re-launched our popular ‘Saturday Supershow’ online, with live links to lockdowned acts, super edited film excerpts and live performances. hosted jointly by compères in London and Margate, the free-to-view show quickly gathered loyal audiences peaking at 30,000 views. 

Adhering to TV HD quality standards quickly established us as industry leading, providing box sets of free to view shows, featuring over 100 cabaret acts throughout the run. The acts and our shielding producer in Margate, who being self employed, were largely without government furlough support, therefore our Equity standard pay rates meant they had a very welcome income stream throughout lockdown. 

Our audience figures continued to soar when we introduced a second midweek show on zoom, allowing lonely regulars opportunity to meet up online and enjoy their regular Thursday night “open mike”. Many have commented that both shows were the highlight of their week. 

Our technical prowess and high standards attracted many compliments - shows taking two days work to edit, but also advice and assistance requests from other venues, particularly the LGBTQ community struggling with technical issues and unreliable internet. We happily gave advice, loaned out equipment and also for WiFi upgrades in the homes of our key performers, quality of content being essential to maintain audiences. 

Such was the unique nature of our shows - featuring acts in their homes performing on unicycles, fire eating, cleverly edited and often led by well known West End and Broadway stars of stage and screen - that we attracted international acclaim and views across the globe, appearing on CNNs World News “Quest means Business” leading the BBC National TV news, numerous radio stations, The Times and Metro newspapers - all delighted that our technical standards from a one bedroom flat were of such quality that live links to newsrooms were instantly possible. 

We were delighted to receive support from both Pink Pepper Gin and Diageo - who also assisted us with our hugely popular Pride London weekend special. Our staged liveshows are returning in August and will be recorded and re-broadcast on Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. 

Customer demand  means you can download our entire box set of 15 shows completely free via our Facebook page. 

By keeping the Phoenix in the public eye, performers paid and producing high quality, innovative entertainment we have garnered new future customers but most importantly reinforced our reputation as both commissioner of and platform for up and coming and established acts whilst giving our apprentices work experience in new media and broadcasting.


Ring O Bells - Bristol

Their story:

When the lockdown came into place we immediately realised that the community needed something to bring it together now that the pub was closed (aside from deliveries and takeaways). 

So amongst other things we did to diversify we started a radio station called Ringers Radio - The Isolation Station. This was a way to bring the community spirit of the pub into the homes of our regulars and customers and indeed new customers or people who didn't necessarily visit the pub. 

It took off from day one and was a life support for many people on their own and for those who wished to send messages to their friends and family or simply to stay in touch. We built a large following not just in our area but all over the UK and throughout the world. 

We invited local heroes on to the show to tell their stories about the work or life in lockdown, people who promote mindfulness and wellbeing, creative people of interest, gardeners, tea makers, pop stars and radio presenters all joined us on our station. 

We promoted local people who were raising money for charity and in particular the NHS, we supported small businesses who needed exposure in the difficult times. 

Our guests included Simon Le Bon, Michael Eavis, Tim Mead (Yeo Valley Dairy). Tim Westwood (Pukka Teas), Nemone (BBC6Music), Doug Allen (BAFTA natural world photographer), Charles Dowding (Gardeners World), Sophie Ellis Bextor and Ricky Ross (Deacon Blue), Richard Laxton BAFTA Director. 

We had listeners from Canada, America, Spain, France and even Australia. We did interviews with the BBC, local radio and TV and we even got a piece in The Times. More importantly we received so many messages from people who said it was a real connection and support in such difficult times to know family and friends were all listening too. 

We even had the local vicar do a Sunday service for those who were unable to attend church as they were also closed. 

Each year our pub holds a Cider and Cheese Fayre supporting and promoting local artisan food and beverage producers. As that couldn't happen we did the event this year on the radio and had over 1000 listeners. 

Customers and regulars were asked to support local cider and cheese makers by coming into our newly set up shop in the pub, purchase their selection thus supporting those producers that needed support and then to sit back at home and listen to the live Cider and Cheese Fayre on the Ringers Radio- Isolation Station. 

We interviewed many  of the cider makers and also the cheese producers and took questions from our audience and played local folk and jazz music. We have been very proud of the station and hope you feel it worthy of your award.


The Fleece Inn - Bretforton, Worcestershire

Their story:

The Fleece Inn is at the heart of our village community and landlord Nigel Smith found a great way of keeping the community informed, and entertained, during lockdown with 'Fleece TV'.

As soon as lockdown became a possibility we spoke to all groups in the village, starting a cross-community Covid-19 response group, launched a 'Good to Talk' network to combat loneliness, and recruited new volunteers to work with the Community Shop offering deliveries. This, and starting our hot food delivery service (raising over £1500for the NHS) kept us busy but it soon became apparent there was a big social gap the pub used to fill, perhaps it was time for some silliness...

We started a virtual pub night on Fridays, every week until July. We tried a couple of options (Remo - too conferencey & Zoom Room) but a paid Zoom account worked best. A bit of consistency in lockdown, it enabled all our groups of regulars to keep in touch and make new friends (the early-doors crew had never met the late night locals before!) Shame the hangovers weren't virtual...

Our Virtual Pub Quiz on a Monday is still going strong on Zoom & Facebook Live, people have joined their friends and family from across the globe as well as next door, enjoying general knowledge questions mixed with creative rounds, bad singing and occasional fancy dress.

Our locals have suggested we apply for this Award because of Fleece TV. From April until July, we went Live on Facebook (repeated on Youtube) everyday at 7pm to share snippets of pub life, the history of the Fleece and its collections (owned by the National Trust) and life in Bretforton during lockdown. 

We invited content from 'home correspondents', sharing photos and videos from around the world, we interviewed villagers, award-winning musicians, Bretforton Silver Band, our MP, elderly neighbours VE day remembrances, lockdown volunteers and keyworkers and many more. 

After the first week of filming on our mobiles we looked at improved technology and invested in Switcher Studio, with fancy split screens, captions and pre-recorded content. We've learnt a lot!

Viewing figures has been by word of mouth - we set up pub WhatsApp and Facebook groups as soon as lockdown hit, plus we have a strong following on social media (pleased to say we gained even more followers during lockdown).

We moved all our traditional events online as part of Fleece TV, from solo morris dancing for Easter Sunday, to a virtual dancing up of the dawn on Mayday, specially created lockdown music from the Silver Band, Thursday Night folkies and our Friday Night Accidental Band, a virtual Open Gardens and a virtual Asparagus Festival. 

On St Georges Day we went live every hour with interviews with asparagus growers, festival mascots and the world-famous Asparamancer, in May we moved the Annual Asparagus Auction onto Zoom and raised £1200 for Caring Hands in the Vale. 

Although we've struggled with the occasional technology gremlins, we're really proud of what Fleece TV achieved!


The Swan - Clewer, Somerset

Their Story:

The Swan Clewer Community Interest Company formed in 2018 to renovate a derelict Victorian coaching inn, whilst at the same time creating a community pub with a difference! We share our space with sixth form students of The Green Room – a local school giving young people who have struggled with mainstream education the chance to lead brilliant lives. We are a unique, fully inclusive community hub owned and run by a diverse group of investors, staff and volunteers.

After an encouraging first six months of trading, 2020 started full of hope; planning our first beer festival and first anniversary, but then we had to close our doors…. However, whilst the lights went dark in the pub, the buzz that we had created within the local community was far from quiet! With a very diverse customer base, we realised that in these strange times, our responsibility extended beyond the usual bar room chat. So, The Friends of The Swan group, who plan many of the pub’s events, decided to help combat the potential loneliness and isolation of lockdown. Some of our existing groups immediately moved online.

With people having more time to read our Monday night book club increased their membership and frequency of meetings. Our sewing group also started to meet via Zoom, planning and making bunting to decorate our courtyard post-lockdown.

In our first big online event, over 30 households registered via the online booking system we designed, to play bingo on Zoom. There were no prizes, but lucky winners secured a ticket on an “all-inclusive virtual cruise”.

Our Quiz is always a popular night, so we launched a Zoom version, introducing a very successful ‘guest round’, where a local charity, environmental group and others got a chance to share their message in a fun and interactive way.

Sunday teatimes saw us ‘Dancing Through the Decades’ with a local singing duo via a series of Facebook Live gigs.

Our YouTube channel introduced ‘Rachel Reads’ – where one of our volunteers recorded bedtime stories to help frazzled parents.

No fees were charged for our events; we just asked for a voluntary donation of the cost of your usual drink in the pub, if you had enjoyed yourself. Funds were shared between our kitchen refurbishment fund and our nominated local charity – raising over £500 for their work with families in crisis.

We kept in touch with the wider community via our weekly email updates that are regularly read by over 600 people. Supported by social media posts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; our website and local radio, these provide an update on what is happening at the pub, advertise our events and during lockdown, reassured everyone that we would be back! We found we had more to say than ever!

After over 30 online events across 12 weeks with between 10 and 50 attendees, aged from 9 to 98, plus a range of other communications and activities, we are proud to say, community spirit is alive and well.


Two Brewers, Clapham

Their story:

Our live performances at the Two Brewers are legendary and we were not going to let a pandemic stop us. We are the best LGBTQ+ pub in the country (FACT), and we have high standards to live up to! We were not going to ignore our fans and supporters in this uncertain time, so, we went online! 

We streamed our Sunday night drag show, known as the Power of Three, we went bigger and better and added an extra act, so it became known as the Power of Four. Every Sunday for 14 weeks, kicking off from 5.30pm with Mary Mac, we streamed performances from Miss Jason/Elsie Crumpet/ Miss Penny and Sandra taking the show through to 11.30pm.

On Friday 15 May, we live streamed Eurovision: Drag Contest. The Vixens hosted the show, featuring a star-studded celebrity jury and a host of incredible drag queens performing some of the most iconic Eurovision songs from its rich history. Not only that but we had the UK Eurovision entrant and star of the West End, Lucie Jones, performing during the interval. We fundraised during this event in aid of the Albert Kennedy Trust, raising over £2,300. 

On Saturday 20 June, we should have had the Two Brewers Street Party, instead we had the Clapham House Party online. 30+ incredible performers and two outstanding hosts brought a cacophony of camp all in support of two charities - UK Black Pride and the Terrence Higgins Trust – raising more than £2,800.

We also hosted ‘Lockdown Legends’ taking place instead of the annual Drag Idol competition – giving performance opportunities to new and upcoming drag performers  from the safety of their own homes.

We kept it simple and just used Facebook Live for every show. For Power of Four, in the first week, we saw more 1000 people tune in. In total, we have 20,000 views across the 14 weeks. 

For the Clapham Street Party, we had more than 7,000 tuning in and for the Eurovision Lockdown, we welcomed more than 800 views online.

We used live streaming software which allowed us to produce a multi-camera broadcast with our hosts in multiple locations. We were able to stream both the Clapham House Party and Eurovision to Facebook and live on YouTube.

Our acts used their own devices in their own homes to stream their performances to ensure everyone remained safe throughout. Where possible, we had the host of each event on our stage at the pub. We ensured that we were COVID-secure and following all social distancing measures at the time. Having a host from the pub, just meant that a little bit of the pub atmosphere was alive.

All our events were free-of-charge, we fundraised for the charities by using JustGiving pages and asking for donations. We did not do this for commercial gain, we love our community and sorely missed them during lockdown. 

Since we were going-online, we went digital in all our marketing and promotions. 

The social media statistics speak for themselves: over lockdown, we saw an overall engagement of around 70,000 – and that’s just for our Facebook page.


MacGregor’s Bar, Inverness

Their story:

“Scotland’s answer to Wayne’s world” 

“Informative, entertaining and downright silly” 

Just a few of the viewers’ comments on “Live at Five from MacGregor’s”, a Facebook Live broadcast from our virtual bar. 

MacGregor's Bar is currently the holder of the Scottish Licensed Trade Award for "Best Music Bar". One of the most successful events in our pub is the Legendary Sunday Session – where musicians and singers join a spontaneous jamming session. 

One week we were the home to musicians and music lovers, the next we were shut! With no one able to come to us, we decided to bring our virtual pub to them, and so created “Live at Five”.  

The show was created by husband and wife bar owners, Jo and Bruce MacGregor. Bruce is also a leading folk musician with the band Blazin Fiddles. Software was purchased to allow a co-presenter, Anna Massie (also in Blazin Fiddles) to join the broadcasts from her home,  and to play in video and photographs in the new virtual “pub” ….our front sitting room. 

Musicians and singers were invited to send in videos to take part in the virtual “session” each day. The reaction blew us away and we realised the show had become a daily 'meeting' place.  We developed programme features to get more engagement: 

1. View from my window. As we were all trapped inside we asked viewers to send in pictures from their front window. Our email was flooded with pictures of backyards in Basingstoke to vineyards in California; windmills in Holland to cherry blossom trees in Japan. We were amazed at the reach and the effect it was having on viewers, they were genuinely delighted to be featured on the show and to 'connect' with others.

2.The Black Isle Correspondent. Anna started a four-minute diary to drop in. With a unique ability to make the mundane hilarious, viewers were glued to the programme to watch her struggles with power washing the wheelie bins, local walks and the making of various jams, cakes and curries. 

3. Murdo’s Dinner.  We invited viewers to send in their culinary creations no matter if they worked or not! Murdo's creation's became legendary.

4. Scotland's Big Session. We created an additional online resource for all lovers of traditional music - a Youtube channel where we archived all the music played on our show. Viewers could then learn from the very best. Lots of people were encouraged to start playing music again. 

Results - There has been an increase of 40% in page follows over lockdown. Peak audience hit 28,396. Many of the regulars' have now joined their own FB group "Lockdown 2020" to keep in touch with one another. They created their own video for the last broadcast "Mairi's Wedding" We are planning a "reunion" at Celtic Connections festival and taking the show to pubs across Scotland.


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Related topics: Events & Occasions

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