Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalists - Community Mindfulness

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Coronavirus Community

Pubs stepped in to ensure the mental wellbeing of their communities as the coronavirus pandemic brought with it unprecedented challenges for people in all walks of life.

Those in the hospitality sector themselves experienced their daily routines, job security, and social interactions drastically change overnight when a lockdown was declared. They acutely understood the huge impact that isolation and lack of routine would have on others in their towns and cities

The Great British Pub Heroes 2020 wanted to recognise the work publicans have done to help those affected by the unique difficulty of the lockdown.

The Community Mindfulness award saw a huge number of pubs put themselves forward to be recognised for supporting their community’s mental health.

The award will highlight the work of pubs that have worked hard to keep their communities connected and talking, be it hosting online events to raise spirits or calling isolated regulars for a chat.

In their own words, they explain why they each believe they are worthy of the Community Mindfulness award.

The Commercial, Leeds

Their story: 

Never more so has mental health been more visible and accepted than at this time of pandemic. 12 months before lockdown we lost a very close friend and customer to suicide and the whole pub felt it.

Prior to lockdown, we at the Commercial chose Andy's Man Club as one of our worthy causes and something that we wanted to contribute too both in terms of donations, time and involvement.

We organised an initial meeting at the chapel next door and the turnout was surprising and impressive. Moving on from that initial meeting, we then actively encouraged people to go along to the meetings and talk about their problems.

I myself went along and took four other people with me - all customers who were struggling and that we hadn't noticed needed help.

When lockdown came, the meetings stopped and this worried us. So we encouraged these people to join us for daily walks/ coffee/exercise/ a phone call everyday, asking for their help to walk our dogs. Anything we could think of to keep them active and also let them know the pub may be closed but we were still there to support them.

The elderly were also suffering and we made it our goal to visit them and take along food parcels donated from Arla Foods in conjunction with the charity Rothwell Live at Home. Each week we would knock on doors and deliver our parcels to those who needed it most. Also on Fridays we take fish n chips to the elderly.

Mental health has never been so visible and Andy's Man Club has provided people (our customers) somewhere to go to talk about life. At the Commercial we try to maintain that support whilst the group is closed and will continue to support them in the future.

The Dog & Parrot, Eastwood, Nottingham

Their story:

One of the key drivers at the Dog & Parrot has always been our commitment to the local community - particularly the most vulnerable. This has become even more of a focus during the lockdown. We work closely with community and charity groups in the local area, particularly the Eastwood Memory Cafe, a not-for-profit organisation helping those affected by dementia, and their carers.

The pub has a license that allowed us to open for takeouts, which meant we could still be physically available to the members of the D&P family that rely on us as one of their few contacts with the outside world. We made sure that there was a safe waiting area for people, while their takeout order was being fulfilled but this rapidly became a space for people that could venture out but didn't really want a takeout, to have some time to see a friendly face and talk about any issues they had. We had regular checks from the local police and they quickly understood the situation and supported our efforts to make sure those most at need were looked after.

Kathryn & David, the owners, also built a network with the most vulnerable customers, who were shielding. They connected in any way required (some of our customers don't have access to the internet, for example) and made sure they had whatever they needed. They went shopping on most days, for customers that had nobody else to rely on, collected prescriptions and spent as long as needed, to chat and support them from a safe distance. 

One of the key ways we connect to the wider Dog & Parrot family, is through our social media. We have a volunteer 'Brand Manager', who looks after our Facebook and Twitter accounts. Before the lockdown, this was primarily to keep everyone up to date on what was on the bar, advertise charity and music events and increase the D&P footprint. During lockdown, this activity reduced and we moved to using our social media to support our customers. We support mental health charities/groups, particularly men's mental health, as we have personal experience in this area. As a pub that has a lot of ex-forces customers, we have a particular focus on charities that help them to adjust and deal with mental and emotional issues.

We also set up video chat groups, to take the D&P experience to people that needed it most. For people that couldn't connect in that way, we regularly phoned out for a chat and everyone knew that we were available 24/7 if they needed to reach out.

Throughout all of this, we’ve maintained the quirky D&P humour that everyone knows and loves.

No support network is a one way street. We are people too and need support/help from time to time. We knew that we had an extended family that were always there for us too.

Old Courts Wigan, Wigan

Their story:

On 17 March the bars, restaurants and venues of the Old Courts closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The venue is already at the heart of its community as a non-profit investing all profits into community, and cultural activity. Unable to reach our community in our normal way our managing director - who is a retired software developer - designed a community response platform utilising our phone system to activate a welfare platform for our isolated and disadvantaged residents. With 45 of the 50 staff on furlough we launched three platforms:  Inbound Welfare Chat line for Isolated residents, Scheduled Welfare Calls and a Logistics Platform to manage food and medicine deliveries for residents unable to leave their homes or financial barriers to food. Within two weeks we had recruited an additional 100+ volunteers to support and ensured the platform met all the required safeguarding and signposting services for residents at risk. The service now five months old continues to grow with 1000s of calls, and now delivering 500+ food packages (working with local food banks), creative packs for younger residents. The success of the platform and management led the local authority SDF to use our system as their main method for distribution and refer enquiries for welfare calls to our volunteers. 

Our volunteers are at the end of the phone seven days per week 10am - 10pm and are just there to chat, talk about old stories of the town, help with using digital services and absolutely anything else just so the residents know they are not alone. We have written poetry with residents, helped set up their first online shop, talked about the war (a lot) and made sure that in the darkest times that we are only a call a day. We have dealt with bereavements, residents with additional needs and residents with complex medical issues and where needed gone in person to check on residents that have not been in contact with family. 

The effect Covid-19 has had on the bars and restaurants has been devastating, with losses in trade of £1.47m - which would normally be used to further our community aims. However the team of volunteers including the majority of the staff team have proudly and proficiently taken on the challenge and ensured that not one resident in the borough is without a friend.

The Bowgie Inn, Newquay

Their story:

The Bowgie Inn, Crantock – this independent pub in North Cornwall responded to a global pandemic in a remarkable way. They turned what was a tremendously difficult situation into a positive 'movement', which is what The Bowgie is all about. The Bowgie has an iconic status with customers all over the world, some of whom have been visiting for generations. Owner Sally Pickles wanted to use their position overlooking Crantock beach to help her customers during such stressful circumstances, so she used her social media platforms as a force for good to spread Bowgie positivity, kindness, uplifting support and compassion at a time when people need it most. 

The Bowgie Inn streamed daily live video streams from the beach on their Facebook page, so people were still able to experience the magic of Cornwall during lockdown. Every daily video attracted thousands of viewers and hundreds of comments from people all over the country and around the world. People shared their memories of Cornwall, how they’re coping with lockdown and how the daily videos were making things that bit easier because they’re able to enjoy the sound of the sea, watch the waves and stay connected to the coast. 

Over a period of 28 days during lockdown, The Bowgie reached over half a million people across the globe. Broadcasting live streams of Crantock to the public during the social restrictions was a great way to support people through the difficult times and gave them a sense of normality and community. Being at the beach is incredibly relaxing and people missed it so much - that’s why The Bowgie’s daily videos were so important – they helped everyone to enjoy the benefits of the sea and being in Cornwall, in a virtual way. 

Every single day throughout lockdown, Sally explored somewhere new – sometimes she took viewers down on the beach, on a stroll across the Gannel Estuary, around the coast path to Polly Joke beach or sometimes they just sat and admired the view over Crantock bay from The Bowgie’s beer garden. Wherever they went, The Bowgie wanted their viewers to take ten minutes out of their day to enjoy the views and relax.

In addition, The Bowgie hosted virtual live music gigs raising money for the NHS, streamed on Facebook straight to people's living rooms (watched by over 20,000 people), as well as a virtual Easter Egg hunt on Easter Sunday for the kids giving away prizes, an Easter drawing competition, 'thank you' campaigns giving out Bowgie vouchers to local heroes on the front-line of the pandemic and competitions with St Austell Brewery, delivering prizes anywhere in the UK to winners. The Bowgie was determined to share joy at a time of stress and anxiety. 

This Cornish pub perched on West Pentire headland pushed through adversity with kindness, innovation, creativity and compassion - broadcasting good energy to the world from a special little part of Cornwall.

The Horse and Jockey Pub Melling, Knowsley 

Their story:

The mental health aspect of our community kitchen was the most important thing. Volunteers needed the personal focus at a time that was so terrifying. We as publicans could not sit back knowing our kitchens could produce high quality food for free to our community. This gave us as a family a purpose when our business was snatched from under us. Then the vulnerable we helped, we know we did a lot for their mental health and continue to do so. Our ongoing listening ear service was probably the single most important part of our operation. Led by Sheila, Carol and Christine who were shielding themselves being either over 70 or having a health condition. The ladies called people for hours every day (they still do). They were the matriarch of this and they persuaded those who were too proud to accept help to let us look after them. We honestly don’t know what some people would’ve done without the meals and the additional calls and jobs our volunteers did. Sheila in particular kept on top of prescription reminders. 

Some of the calls we have taken have been utterly heartbreaking. People in their 90s with no family and nobody else in the world to talk to suddenly have a lifeline in our volunteers. One person said “You’re the only person I get to speak to. It makes my day.” Or another who has cared for his wife for 30 years after a stroke and “Still looks at her with as much love today as the day I married her.” Another resident is in her 80s herself but cares for her adult daughter with additional needs. The single mums who wondered how they’d get to the food bank with no money for travel and four babies in tow appreciated the conversations alongside the supplies and the meals. We’ve been a confidante. An ear. A shoulder to cry on. A person to laugh with. A source of information and the person(s) showing these people care at a time they need it most. This whole exercise has been a lesson in community and connection - which is what the pub industry is all about really. We bring people together in a community setting and they connect. 

In the book Lost Connections by Johan Hari, he suggests that depression and mental ill health can be traced back to a lack of connection. At a time when our industry is going to fight to survive, we know that we sit at the heart of our community and offer a place of real connection - whether our patrons can get in to see us for a pint or a meal or not. We are proud that we have genuinely been there for those who have needed nutritious warm and fresh food in their bellies, an understanding listener and access to services at a time when they have been so very frightened. We've never felt as connected to one another in our community as we do now.

White Horse - Kings Lynn, Norfolk

During lockdown, operator Marvin took it upon himself to reach out to the community and host a weekly live DJ set on Facebook. He did this every Friday evening for two hours during lockdown. He saw this as an opportunity to interact with his regulars who he missed seeing. What he didn’t expect was that the weekly events would take off. Viewings jumped up to 1000 views and people were watching him from all over the world. Martin said that it was great to be able to interact and communicate with people but also wonderful to have them be able to interact with each other. The events were so well received that people commented on how much they enjoyed Marvin entertaining them and said that he was a highlight of their week during lockdown. 

Marvin also donated items to the local hospital for the nurses on the critical care ward. The local church was so impressed with Marvin’s generosity that when Marvin came to donate to the critical care nurses again, they also pulled together and contributed with his donation. 

Liberty Worship Centre commented on Marvin’s support: "We are so grateful that due to your generosity and in partnership with The White Horse we were able to make a donation of refreshments and personal care supplies to the key workers and hospital staff at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn NHS Foundation Trust this month.”

Marvin is a shining example on how one person can bring so many people together no matter how far they are apart.

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