Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalist - Ei Publican Partnerships Pub Hero

By Ed Bedington contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Tenanted + leased, Pubco + head office, Social responsibility

Pubs across the UK have struggled to adapt to the challenges the corona crisis created, but many not only adapted but thrived, and Ei Publican Partnership operators were no exception.

As part of the Great British Pub Awards Pub Heroes 2020, we’ve shortlisted six operators from across a large estate of superb businesses, picking out the sites that really shone during the lockdown.

Ed Bedington, editor of The MA, which organises the awards, said: “Pubs across the UK were dealt a seismic shock when the government ordered their closure, but many managed to find a way to continue to serve their communities despite that.

“We’ve picked out some superb examples out of many from the Ei Publican Partnership estate for your vote for the best operator in our Pub Heroes event. I’m proud to say these pubs epitomise what’s so great about the UK pub sector.”

The shortlist is:

The Brickmakers, Norwich

Their story:

The Brickmakers is a 500-capacity live music pub venue that puts on music seven days a week. When they had to close due to the pandemic, they spoke to their customers and bands and realised that their main concern was for their mental wellbeing during lockdown. 

They quickly began to think of ways to continue bringing music to their customers’ homes and wanted to keep their community and bands engaged and connected with each other. The idea of an Internet radio station was born and after just a day of researching and experimenting they had set up the station and began to broadcast. It was an instant success! 

They have been broadcasting every day since March 18 and their shows feature live phone interviews with local bands and artists as well as featuring local bands’ music. They also have three shows in collaboration with the local church where their local vicar calls in and discusses local issues and the chat function on the radio site allows local residents to chat live on air. They have used the radio station to reach out to the vulnerable in the local area, providing access to the local food bank and a support group that helps with medicine collection. They now have nine shows a week, including guest presenters from the community and local bands who broadcast on the station from their homes. Since March they have had over 10,000 listeners.

In addition, they typically run a Sunday quiz on “The Brickies”, brought to the virtual world using Zoom. They alternate between a music quiz one week and then a Speed-Quiz the next, where players can use their phones as a buzzer. It's great fun and they have a core bunch of 45 players that take part every week, although there are over 100 players in the group.

As if that wasn’t enough, they also created Brickmakers TV on YouTube and using gig footage that they had recorded in the last year, they streamed gigs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays every week. These streams were hugely successful and have hundreds of views. They also live stream, every week, live interviews and performances with local artists. Even as lockdown eases the radio station and YouTube channel are still as busy as ever. They plan to expand the station with more local presenters and the local youth group is going to be starting its own show in August.

They have used the Internet in every way possible to keep their community connected – an impressive achievement – and a huge amount of time, effort and commitment.  Keeping everyone's spirits up was the main aim and they feel that they have certainly helped to keep people smiling and positive through what has been a difficult time for many alone in isolation.  

The team can’t wait to be able to restart live music at the Brickmakers once the Government confirms it is safe to operate gigs again. In-the-meantime, they have plans to raise funds for a permanent outdoor sound stage on-site.

The Willows, Upton, Wirral

Their story:

Ray has been the publican at The Willows Hotel in Upton for a decade – in fact, he celebrated his anniversary at the pub during lockdown. Over this time Ray has continuously been a pinnacle of the community he serves, raising money for local causes and ensuring he has kept his customers entertained and providing them with a home away from home at the Willows.

During lockdown it was no different. Ray put his thinking cap on as soon as he closed the doors of the Willows and came up with the online concept of ‘The Big Lockdown House’, a take on the famous Big Brother House. He broadcast episodes on Facebook Live to a loyal local following of not just elderly and vulnerable viewers, but many of the Upton community.

Throughout lockdown Ray posed as more than 40 different characters as he ‘introduced’ them to The Big Lockdown House to isolate with him. From the cast of Scooby-Doo and Marvel Comics to Furlough the Horse on Grand National Day and famous singers, such as Rod Stewart, no two days were the same.

Ray also continued to host his usual rhythm of the week online including the Willows’ weekly quiz, games nights, live music and singalongs. He introduced ‘An Evening with Raza’ (Ray’s nickname) where he would spend the evening with a lucky local household over Zoom.

As lockdown went on, Ray’s creativity came on in leaps and bounds as he came up with more and more inventive ways of entertaining his customers. Particular favourites were a Coronavirus Press Conference with Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (both played by Ray) and BBQ cooking classes.

The engagement and feedback from his customers were fantastic, with many taking part in his interactive entertainment, requesting songs and attending games nights. Many of Ray’s regulars said that his virtual pub was the highlight of their day, with some saying it was the only interaction they had with the outside world apart from their food delivery once a week.

As always Ray put his community first, bringing them together, keeping them entertained, and ensuring they were still able to have some of the social interaction that the pub usually brought them, but virtually. And for those who were unable to join to the online antics, Ray made sure he put a call in daily to check in and make sure they were doing ok.


Mowden Hotel, Darlington

Their story:

Simon and Rachel and their children Mia, Jude and Blake, kept themselves very busy over the lockdown period. Rather than do things for themselves they decided to help their local community, especially the elderly and most vulnerable.

During lockdown, they raised over £9,500 in donations and cooked and delivered over 10,200 free meals.

After closing on 20th March, Simon and Rachel looked at the prospect of continuing trading as a takeaway food venue, but after trialling this for two days they decided that they would prefer to help the local community by providing free hot meals. They used the surplus food stock from the pub and started using their social media platforms to ask if anyone knew of any local elderly or vulnerable people that may benefit from a free meal.

That first week of lockdown, they delivered around 40 meals to the local area. Word spread and more people contacted them to see if they could help elderly relatives living in the area; not wanting to let anyone down they added more addresses to their list and in the second week they delivered 50% more meals.

At this point, the local press caught wind of what they were doing, and the Northern Echo ran a story as did Radio BBC Tees. After this, their phone did not stop ringing and social media went crazy, their list of regular deliveries grew and grew. The project snowballed and they opened up a JustGiving page where people could donate to help them buy ingredients to keep things going.

They ended up preparing and delivering over 900 meals themselves, with the help of some volunteers. on a weekly basis. They were then approached by the local Councillor Pauline Culley who helped in reaching out to a wider group of vulnerable people. It got to the point where cooking all the meals was too much for Simon alone and they had to bring in some help in the shape of their close friends, and luckily also caterers, from a local cafe.

Simon and Rachel ended up working six days a week preparing food and delivering on four set days to a list of addresses all of whom were elderly or particularly vulnerable. All meals delivered were free of charge and every penny they raised was spent on ingredients and packaging.

Simon and Rachel received further recognition for their efforts in the House of Commons, by their local MP Peter Gibson who named the Mowden Hotel in a speech thanking those that had helped others.

Simon’s talents do not just lie in the kitchen, he also recorded regular Vlogs throughout lockdown on Facebook, where he communicated his and the family’s thoughts and experiences. He touched on a number of wellbeing issues and his vlogs were well received by the wider community. Simon’s passion for helping the community is embodied in these recordings.


The Old Thatch, Ferndown, Bournemouth

Their story:

The Old Thatch was voted ‘Bournemouth Echo’s Pub of the Week’ to recognise the work the landlord puts into serving the heart of the community and as much as the love he puts into running this historic hostelry.

During the course of the Coronavirus pandemic, landlord Nicholas Penstana organised 30 free meals to vulnerable people who were self-isolating and rolled out their popular Sunday roasts as takeaways and collections. The response was overwhelming with the pub dishing up over 2,000 suppers.

Nick said: “We ran a ‘virtual pub’ during lockdown, with fun and interactive competitions including The Great Thatch Bake Off. We wanted to use this platform to keep spirits high. We had 16 competitors and over 4,000 votes and our final four took their cakes to care homes and ambulance stations. Our winner, Phoebe Stanbrook, is making cakes for us and has now even started her own cake business!

“We have built a stage to host live music outside in the garden and have started to plan socially distanced live music events. We will also be hosting our quizzes out here and potentially outside film evenings for locals to enjoy a classic film in the garden.” 

All initiatives have been set up under COVID-secure guidelines to ensure the ongoing safety of staff and customers. 

They also teamed up with local primary school teacher, specialising in key stage 1 and 2, to provide some fun tasks to keep the community’s children entertained at home with #HomeschoolWednesdays. From writing stories about the animals, you find out on a walk for English class, to drawing objects that begin with a certain letter for Art class, the pub would encourage the families to post on their Facebook wall and share their efforts. Each week, these posts would be shared up to 25 times and receive on average nearly 30 likes.

In addition, they created a “Nominate your local lockdown hero” competition with the winner being awarded a free roast for them and their family. They received nearly 50 nominations for the competition and the social posts have garnered over 40 likes and comments. 

On Father’s Day, they served over 160 roast dinners to local Dads. The feedback from these takeaway roast dinners has been incredible, it was great to see the demand so high and to see an appetite for the pub to reopen.


Moody Cow, Upton Bishop, Ross on Wye

Their story:

When Chris and Dawn at the Moody Cow closed the doors of their pub, they quickly realised that serving the community didn’t stop there. As the hub of the rural Upton Bishop neighbourhood, they were prime placed to reach out to the elderly and vulnerable people in the area, especially those who lived in remote locations.

They quickly realised the impact of lockdown and COVID-19 on this group and decided to help.

Reigniting their supply chain, the two set up a village shop in the pub to help locals who were unable to visit supermarkets in nearby towns and cities. They set up a contact-free collection process, that allowed vulnerable people to collect their goods with the peace of mind that they wouldn’t need to come into contact with anyone else when they picked up their shopping. For those who couldn’t get out at all, Chris and Dawn organised delivery slots to ensure they got their food parcels too.

Not only this, but they also set up a takeaway facility for hot meals which could be collected from the pub socially distantly or delivered, for those in need of the service.

Chris and Dawn made sure to keep their customers informed throughout, both on Facebook and their website. They made the ordering process easy and accessible to everyone and have had excellent feedback from their local community for their support during the crisis. Many locals noted their positive attitude to situation COVID-19 left them in, praising their willingness to carry on, adapt their business and learn new skills – describing it as a testament to who they are as people.

This positive communication translated perfectly as they began to reopen. They posted extensively about the measures they would be implementing and what to expect from the new system at the pub, leaving customers feeling comfortable and confident about returning the Moody Cow.

Despite reopening, Chris and Dawn continue to support the clinically vulnerable members of their community, hosting special sittings where they can dine without mainstream customers and ensuring they stay safe. 


The Horse & Jockey, Melling, Merseyside

Their story:

Suzanne and Adam Franklin of The Horse and Jockey have always run their pub with their community in mind, lockdown was not going to stop that.

They have provided over 100 meals a day, that’s over 10,000 meals in total, to those most vulnerable in their local community. This legacy continues, as they have not stopped post-lockdown. They have acquired some land nearby and have created a purpose-built permanent community kitchen and continue to provide free meals to those most in need.

When lockdown happened, they recognised that there would be many members of the community that would struggle in having a main meal every day. With the rate of claiming benefits more than 25% higher in Melling than the national average, Suzanne and Adam stepped up. They made an instantaneous decision to stay open as a community kitchen, the resource that the community needed, helping the most vulnerable and elderly.

On 22nd March, just two days after the pubs closed, they served 25 hot meals to those in the surrounding area. This soon escalated to providing over 100 meals to the elderly and vulnerable.

The whole pub team has been involved and were vital in the quick set up and continuous smooth running of this new operation. GDPR-compliant spreadsheets and communication strategies were put in place to ensure everyone received their meals.

Following the success of the initial day of cooking and sending meals to those in need, Adam put a call out to locals for their help. Within hours, they had over 50 volunteers ready to be mobilised and a meeting was organised to sort logistics and practicalities of expanding the free meals. Volunteers were made up from every walk of life and various professions, each bringing their own expertise to the cause, contributing to making this happen and growing it to such a success. The meals provided changed daily, but there was always a hot main meal.

The whole operation was funded by donations. They partnered with the Liverpool Virtual Pub who kickstarted the fundraising campaign. A Just-Giving page was also created for the sole purpose of raising money and awareness of these meals. 100% of all donations was used to buy the food to feed people.

Feedback has been phenomenal, so much so that Adam and Suzanne are continuing to provide meals post lockdown. The 40-ft container donated to the cause and now resides in a field near the pub and they are planning to permanently re-introduce “meals on wheels” for the community, which has been sorely missed.

This entire field will be utilised, not just to house the container-kitchen, but Adam’s plan is to produce the food that is then cooked for the community – from chickens to herbs to vegetables –  and sell the surplus to put back into the kitchen. Additionally, every child in Melling will be given a potato seed to plant in the field and they will be able to watch their vegetable grow and then know it was cooked for someone most in need.

They are already reaping commercial success from their volunteer work during lockdown with customers old-and-new visiting the pub. 


The Dick Whittington, Watford

Their story:

Ashley took over the Dick Whittington in late January this year. The pub is a community pub through and through, and despite having only been there for only six weeks, when the country stopped and went into lockdown, Ashley continued to serve her community.

Her first port of call was to organise a weekly takeaway slot. Thursdays became Pie & Mash night and quickly became incredibly popular with the community. The enthusiastic uptake led Ashley to initiate a brunch offering to help local contractors who were still working in the area but struggling to find hot, substantial food while they were at work – especially with so many shops closed and queues to get into local supermarkets.

This allowed Ashley to begin cooking meals she could donate to the elderly and vulnerable members of the South Oxhey community. She prioritised those without family or friends nearby to help them and those by themselves and those who might ordinarily struggle to cook a hot meal themselves. Realising how essential this service was to the community, Ashley set up a GoFundMe Page to help raise money to fund the meals and buy essential items for anyone in need in the area.

Ashley’s original target was £500 but she quickly raised over £1,300. With the help of her partner Jamie, Ashley used the funds to hand make and deliver 100 hampers packed with goodies to the elderly and vulnerable members of the community shielding in the area. The two also set up a fruit and veg stall out of the pub on Tuesday’s and Thursday for the final eight weeks of lockdown to help those who couldn’t travel to the supermarket gain access to the fresh supplies they needed. Her hard work was recognised by the Watford Observer in April.

Following the success of the GoFundMe page, Ashley decided to set up a foodbank at the pub where locals could both donate items or collect them if they were in need. The foodbank and the fruit and veg stall are both still up and running today, despite the doors to the Dick Whittington reopening.

Ashley also continued to run online event and celebrations during the lockdown period. From hosting an online poker tournament to commemorating VE Day and Father’s Day by offering delicious hampers for customers to enjoy, Ashley used her online network to successfully cultivate the feeling of community usually felt in the pub, virtually. The pub also gifted a bottle of wine to everyone on the frontline who had a birthday during lockdown.

The Dick Whittington reopened in July with the safety of its staff and customers, paramount. As well as operating under the COVID-secure guidelines, Ashley has organised the pub to be ‘fogged’ ever 28 days which prevents bacteria from growing on surfaces during that time.

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