Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalists - Feeding the Community

By Ed Bedington contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Food has become a vital part of many pubs offer, and with the lockdown underway, many pubs shifted to not only run takeaway services, but also provide free meals to vulnerable people.

Food has become a vital part of many pubs offer, and with the lockdown underway, many pubs shifted to not only run takeaway services, but also provide free meals to vulnerable people.

The Great British Pub Awards Pub Heroes aims to recognise those operators in the Feeding the Community category.

Ed Bedington, editor of The MA, which organises the awards, said: “Food is integral to a lot of pub operations and it was fantastic to see so many operators managing to keep that service going during lockdown.

“Particularly impressive were the pubs that managed to ensure that vulnerable people in their communities were looked after and fed.

“We had hundreds of entries into this category, and judges had a tough job picking out our finalists. We’ve shortlisted seven great operations that are a great example to the trade.”

The seven finalists are:

The Horse & Jockey, Melling, Merseyside

Their story:

Ten days before lockdown I couldn’t sleep as the devastating effects from coronavirus on the hospitality industry in Europe took hold. Not waiting for Boris to make the decision, we closed early and mobilised ourselves as a community kitchen.

We worried about the elderly, and we knew many 70+ year olds looking after age 90+  parents who would both need to shield. We sit on the border of the second poorest borough in the UK, with child poverty a real concern. On March 15, we mobilised a group of caring villagers and between us set up Melling Community Volunteers.

We are still to date delivering meals to those shielding who have nobody else. We’ve made and delivered around 15,000 meals. We and made the decision it was not appropriate with sanitisation concerns to offer both takeaway and a community kitchen service. We lost out financially but gained in the most beautiful way. We now have the most amazing network of volunteers and people in need who we have been feeding and we've come together at a time when social distancing has forced us apart.

The politics around funding this project has been difficult and we didn’t qualify for grants, because we were not an official charity, but charities were begging us to help as they didn’t have the resources and people power we did. We took referrals from housing associations, schools, GP surgeries, social prescribing charities, community interest companies, social services and local churches, along with referrals from concerned neighbours or distant families. Then there were the self-referrals, which broke our hearts as elderly ladies cried when they asked for help, ashamed they couldn’t stand for long enough to cook the foods given to them via the government food box scheme. There were those who couldn’t access a food bank, families who were fighting COVID-19, people with cancer or bedbound and the families we fed when their loved ones died alone in hospital, leaving them home alone and without closure. We knew as we handed over every hot meal that there was a story behind each person and we were proud to know we were offering delicious food, taking away stress and offering genuine help.

We continued our community kitchen and in addition to carrying on delivering meals to the most vulnerable (down from 120 to 35 daily at present), have been gifted a patch of land to create a volunteer led veg plot. We want to engage local schools and those who have used us during the pandemic to create a community field-to-fork programme. The dream is within a few months we’ll be delivering meals to our elderly made with the produce we’ve grown on the farm. We are still very much in this. This is a long-term legacy. We know that COVID has brought our village closer than ever before, putting our pub at the heart of a very special place. As we always say #FoodisLove.


The Packhorse Inn, Moulton, Suffolk

Their story:

Following the sudden closure of the Packhorse Inn back in March, the team and chefs found themselves missing the team morale and the buzz of a busy restaurant.

Lewis Ryan, sous chef at The Packhorse was not eligible for the furlough scheme, as he had only recently joined the business, so the management team decided to keep him on, in the aim to do something charitable and give something back to the local community.

Finding inspiration from all of the amazing initiatives that were springing up around the UK we decided to do what we do best and cook delicious, healthy meals for people in need.

We started by using our marketing channels to help raise money to fund the free meals initiative and came up with the name – Giving Tree.

We opened The Packhorse kitchen in April and worked with ‘Food For Heroes’ to initially find hospitals that were in need of some nutritious meals. F4H also helped us to organise the logistics, such as packaging and labelling correctly, as it was something we had never done before.

The first beneficiary we delivered to was Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital and three other team members volunteered to help Lewis cook, package and deliver the meals on a weekly basis. This was shortly followed by a number of care homes and the Newmarket Churches Together initiative, who supported families struggling to put food on the table.

The cause soon gathered momentum and the media, including BBC Look East, covered the story. With the help of the extra awareness, our fundraising efforts exploded and before we knew it we had raised £10,000 and were inundated with requests from local staff who worked at hospitals, care homes in the area and communities in need in and around East Anglia.

After five weeks of cooking over 10,000 meals from The Packhorse it was clear we didn’t have enough space or resource there for the demand, so we opened another three kitchens at pubs within the Chestnut Group to support with the efforts.

Since we launched the free meals initiative in April the amazing team of volunteers have raised over £50,000, and cooked and delivered over 25,000 meals to over 30 beneficiaries in the region. We have had overwhelming support by local businesses supporting our cause - from Suffolk Farm Tomatoes donating food, to Volvo donating two cars to help with our delivery efforts. We couldn’t be prouder of our team and have had some amazing feedback.

The Giving Tree has been such a worthwhile project for everybody involved that we have now made it a Community Interest Company and it will now be an important part of our business going forward. A much-needed ray of light that has shined through a very stormy few months.


The Wiremill Lakeside Pub & Inn, Felbridge, Surrey

Their story:

Boris closed us on 20.03.2020. At 5am on 21.03.2020 my car was packed with everything I could fit in from our office and I hit the road. That night following the announcement I created a new web page for the Wiremill setting up an online shop and starting a campaign called #StaySafe.

By 20:00hrs the next day we had raised £800 in donations, been on BBC radio, started to cook and had packed 100 boxes of fruit and veg, meats, eggs, milk and bread.

On Sunday 22nd we delivered a full Mother’s Day service, but not as you know it. It was a flip from 450 covers in pub to 120 collected and delivered meals. To families, but most importantly to mums at home, usually alone.

On Monday 23rd we began to call local charities. Within 24 hours we had ‘virtually’ met with Age UK and two local surgeries and had a list of isolated and elderly in our community. I hit the road with my boxes of veg, milk and bread, as the team I left behind began to cook more ready meals and box more essentials.

I had an amazing time, one of the most memorable in my lifetime, happy and sad. Meeting the elderly at their doors with our boxes of fresh goodies, seeing the smiles and sharing the stories. I met people who hadn’t seen or spoken to another person in weeks. A quick chat sitting in my deck chair as they sat in their chair on the doorstep and I was off.

In the first week we helped 115 isolated and elderly and had collections from over 500 cars every other day for fresh fruit, meats and dairy.

I was only meant to be at the pub for three days, that’s how many pairs of boxers I took. However, Jason who we all worked with on the Sunday was taken down by the virus. I made the call; we all bunkered into the hotel rooms and we self-isolated together.

By day 14 we had over 50 local volunteers (customers new and old) collecting our grocery boxes, delivering across the region to elderly being sent home from hospital with nothing in their fridge or cupboards. From 88-year-old Frank who’s meals on wheels had been cancelled to 92-year-old Stella who was just after 20 B&H and a bacon sarnie.

As we kicked the pub shop into gear, we asked our new found shoppers to donate if they wanted to help at checkout, to either support #StaySafe with a £10 donation or to support Only A Pavement Away charity with £2.50 collection. The standout collections were a pack of back bacon at £2.20 and a bill of £252.20 and £10 donations flooded in both online and via the shop, the generosity was incredible.  

Over 2,000 meals cooked and delivered or collected and 1,000 food boxes and a population cared for that we had no idea existed in our community.

We haven’t stopped since we reopened on 04.07.2020 and nor will we.


The Bevy, Brighton, East Sussex

Their story:

The Bevy is the only community owned pub on a housing estate in the UK. We exist to make a difference in the challenging neighbourhood of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean. In normal times we combat food poverty by providing discounted community meals, with our ingredients coming from a wide variety of sources, including produce grown in our pub garden and from Fareshare, to avoid it being wasted on landfill. We host a wide variety of clubs aimed at elderly and vulnerable people, examples being Friday Friends, our weekly lunch club for 50 seniors; a biweekly dementia cafe and a ‘Bridge the Gap’ group for people with a wide variety of challenges.

We know many of our regulars don’t have supportive family members or other networks. Therefore, we knew it was crucial when Covid closed the pub that we kept in touch with them and carried on providing healthy, nutritious food. We phoned round quickly to find out what individual needs were and coordinated with all our existing partners in the area, including churches, community workers and sheltered housing providers. ‘Bevy Meals on Wheels’ was quickly established, where our chefs were able to safely cook food in our kitchen, and we recruited a range of volunteers who were able to hand deliver the food from a safe distance and provide a friendly face, and offer any support needed, such as running any necessary errands or picking up prescriptions. We have been able to perform three deliveries a week, starting with 18 deliveries and growing to an average of 50. We haven’t charged for these meals, but have been amazed by how generous other people and funders have been. We've also been able to distribute jigsaws and puzzle books to keep minds occupied.

The demand has come from a wide variety of people - we leafleted areas and carried on working with partners to identify the most vulnerable. The feedback has been wonderful. The sister of one of our recipients with dementia said: "The meals have been a weight off my mind because although (my sister) was getting meals delivered before they were frozen and she couldn’t work it out and we were throwing endless meals away. But she loves these hot meals and she is eating them. It’s been a life saver and a godsend for her and for us."

With the success of BMW, we also established a partnership with BACA, our local secondary school. We were able to source chefs and produce so that we were also able to cater for low income families attached to the school and across East Brighton. We are very pleased that our experiences have enabled us to serve a wide variety of different groups.

In total we have delivered more than 4,500 meals since the end of March, and we are not going to finish there. We have shown there is a real need for the less mobile to access healthy nutritious food delivered safely by a smiling volunteer.


The Keel Row, Seaton Delaval, Northumberland

Their story:

“In March 2020, pubs were closed, so we brought The Keel Row to you”.

Before pubs were forced to close, we launched a free delivery service for those who were apprehensive about visiting busy public places or had underlying health conditions. When pubs were forced to close the Keel Row fully launched a takeaway/delivery service. It was important that there were no additional charges for delivery and prices for home-cooked dishes were reduced to ensure all of the community were able to access the service. A team of volunteers worked each day to serve the community home-cooked food at affordable prices (the pub never formally closed). Meals were delivered daily to local care homes and sheltered accommodation. 

For Easter, publican Sharon and team visited nearby estates within our village with a Peter Rabbit mascot purchased by the pub. Children were waving from their windows and Peter Rabbit left free treats at the doors of each household. The little event helped spread some much needed happiness during a difficult time.

An afternoon tea service was successful, delivering in excess 70 to 80 afternoon teas daily. The teas were a perfect way to celebrate special occasions safely at home and free balloons were included with orders for special occasions - a real personal touch. A special VE day afternoon tea was launched to help our community celebrate this special day at home. The pub delivered 400 individual teas that day, including delivering to war veterans within the community.

The Keel Row also donated/received goods for the ‘Keel Row Food Bank’ which was set up to deliver food to those in hardship during lockdown.

A social media appeal was also organised in response to the local cat and dog shelter running short of supplies. An amazing response from the community resulted in a large number of pet food, blankets and toys donated.

A local farm approached us to ask for any donations of fruit and veg due to not being able to open to families and receiving no government support. The Keel Row paid for and donated a large amount of produce to the farm, alongside an amazing response from our local community who brought vans filled of fruit and veg for the farm.

All of the pub lights were turned ‘blue’ during lockdown in support of our frontline workers. Cars tooted as they went passed seeing all the lights!

“At the end of the storm, there is always a rainbow” - we are really thankful to our valued friends and loyal customers for their support, as we couldn’t have done it without them.


The Swan, Thornbury, Bristol

Their story:

I started up a Facebook group and advertised with various organisations that we were cooking for the vulnerable. Many were elderly and self-isolating and others rely on us daily when life is normal, as we have customers who are blind and deaf.  We were delivering seven days a week, both lunchtime and during the evening. 

We had a call list of people who I would either text or call daily to check they were ok and then they placed their order for lunch. We had sons and daughters calling from overseas to order lunch for their parents three or four times a week, and they felt comforted that their parents were eating regularly. We would email relatives to let them know we had seen their parents and they were fine.  Many used to call us with their meal requirements and they would give us a shopping list which we use to get and deliver when their meal was being dropped off. 

On two occasions we have two couples who were celebrating a milestone 90th​ birthday, and we delivered a special three-course dinner for them. We also did an afternoon tea for six for a couple who were devastated that they had to delay their wedding and gave prosecco and flowers to them too as a treat. 

We put on ‘Fish and Chip Friday’ for several local complexes of elderly residents, who would normally have ordered from the closed fish and chip shop. There was a lady who was 95, who should have had a 95th birthday party, so instead we delivered afternoon tea to all flats in her complex. In another care home we did feature days, such as Italian day etc. 

Lots of crisps and soft drinks were also donated to the homeless in Bristol via a group called Blond Angels. We also created food packs for the homeless which contained at least three days of food for them to use in temporary accommodation.

The Victoria Hotel, Allerton Bywater, West Yorkshire

Their story:

The announcement of lockdown came as a shock. Our initial response was what about the bookings we had in for Mother’s Day. We decided we could do takeaway as there were enough takeaway containers in stock. We called all the bookings (138 meals), who all agreed to collection and I opened for pick-up on the Sunday with one member of staff. On Monday I furloughed all staff and took stock of everything. I realised the business would not survive on a £10,000 grant and I was not prepared to go into debt. I was aware things were about to change, that customers would be changing their habits and we needed to be part of their new routines or we would be forgotten. I did food delivery Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 5 to 8pm and Sunday 12pm to 3.30pm.  I took orders, cooked and delivered (250 meals weekly).

Week three my friend volunteered to do the deliveries, which enabled me to increase the delivery area. Demand kept on growing through the power of Facebook. I was getting more confident with the situation so had a video call with my four full-time staff around end of April as I wanted to make full use of our on/off licence. I had a plan, if we could get our carvery units downstairs (a local and his telehandler got them out a top window and lowered them to the ground and in the front door) we could open safely for take-away with social distancing, have a one way system and less staff needed. There was an opportunity we could do more takeaway as more people had started walking and cycling since lockdown and plenty of people were passing our front door as there is a park and river walk across the road. Staff were very supportive, even though they would get less money as I only needed one person for 20 hours each week, and agreed to rotate between them every week.

We spent the following few days putting up Perspex, signage and stocking up on beer cartons. We opened on VE day doing hot and cold drinks, sweets, cakes, ice creams and a food menu including hot baguettes. We continued to open for 32 hours each week until July 4. We have had some issues, but nothing major and overall it has been very successful. On a Thursday I also delivered food parcels for the local council to people who were isolating and had nobody.

Since we reopened it's been amazing. The response and goodwill from everyone has been overwhelming and its all due to what my fantastic team and I have done for our business and the community during lockdown. The most ironic thing is we were predominantly a wet led pub and its food which has saved our business.


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