Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalists - Front-Line Support

By Stuart Stone contact

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One of the key difficulties faced during lockdown was supporting front-line workers, and pubs did not shy away from the challenge.

The ongoing pandemic has stretched Britain’s health services to their absolute limits and placed unimaginable personal and professional burdens on front-line staff who have unflinchingly put their own health at risk on a daily basis to treat those suffering from Covid-19.

Since last orders were called on 20 March, countless pub operators and their teams have stepped up to do whatever they can to support their local front-line heroes – from care home workers and local police, to GPs and those on the night shift at nearby hospitals. 

Closed doors and dried up revenue streams haven’t hampered the spirit of service among Britain’s pubs, as thousands stepped up, whether hand delivering thousands of meals to hospital staff, providing overnight accommodation or dipping into their own pockets to make a dent in the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortfall. 

The Great British Pub Awards Pub Heroes 2020 saw a huge number of entries across a wide range of categories, and the Front-Line Support category was no exception.

Judges were given a challenging task of picking out six finalists from an exceptional field that collectively supported tens of thousands through the most challenging of times.

Our six finalists for the Front-Line Support category and their stories are:

Helen Browning's Royal Oak, Swindon, Wiltshire

We delivered 4,000 single portion meals to overnight staff at Swindon's Great Western Hospital between May 8 and July 15 – initially for workers on Covid wards, but eventually for all overnight staff as needed.

In mid-April, one of our customers established a JustGiving page within the Hospital's preferred charity page, Brighter Futures, with our guidance and support. In total, it raised approximately £20,500. The instructions to Brighter Futures were to spend it on food from our pub. 

The food provided to Great Western Hospital was required to be delivered fresh and chilled as well as meet criteria such as being mostly organic, major allergen free, microwavable in five minutes and edible with a fork on a desk at midnight or in the early hours. 

We were also asked that 20% of our meals were vegetarian, provided balanced nutrition and adhered to full Safer Food Better Business labelling and protocols. Each day of delivery, the hospital received a different dish, part veggie, part meat based.

We worked from a list of about 12 recipes that were both easy for us to create and enjoyable for staff to eat. These included spicy organic pork ragu and pasta; beef curry and rice; veggie cassoulet and couscous; bean, lentil and roast veggie casseroles; and organic bangers and mash. 

As farmers as well as publicans, all the meat and meat products were sourced from our own farm, where the pub is located. 

The kitchen effort was led by one of our junior chefs, Rita Bronze, with help from commis chef PJ Kruger, both whom I am also nominating for local Covid Food Hero awards. I would also single out our external environmental health adviser, Janice Bardwell, for the hands-on support she provided throughout the period. 

We started at 100 meals per day, three days each week but moved up to four days per week after four weeks. 

In addition, our bed and breakfast business remained open throughout and featured on the Government's online key worker accommodation list. We looked after hospital staff, hospital support staff and sub-contractors, ambulance drivers, Covid testing laboratory builders, as well as other key staff to keep the country on the move.

As the pub’s re-opening loomed, we put a brake on fund raising, since creating this hospital food and starting our own restaurant food would not work in tandem for very long. 

The aim of the fundraisers was to keep their favourite pub busy and alive, and simultaneously ensure that our efforts were directed to a good cause. They achieved their aims.

The Junction Tap, Woking, Surrey

When lockdown began, and I think I can speak for a lot of people in our industry, I felt a bit directionless. We are all so used to being at the centre of our communities and the people we serve day in and day out – to have that suddenly taken away leaves a big hole. 

Looking for something I could do to occupy my time in way that contributed to the fight against Covid-19, I soon came across a story on Facebook of a group in Italy using 3D printers to create personal protective equipment (PPE) from diving masks. It made me think that there must be a way we could do something similar in the UK.

I started to look for ways to help out almost immediately and quickly came across the UK’s 3D printing community on Facebook. I had some bonus money saved and decided to buy my own 3D Printer. My friend Tim, who also lives in Woking, decided to buy one too.

By this time, the 3D printing community had highlighted a deficit in the amount of PPE available to the NHS frontline services – specifically a lack of 80,000 clips used to attach the protective plastic visors for doctors and nurses working closely with coronavirus patients. 

After some trial and error, Tim and I perfected the process of making these clips and had soon made over 1,000 units. These were safely collected by DPD, sterilised, and delivered to hospitals in need across the country.  

We funded the first batch of filament we needed to print the clips ourselves but then set up a GoFundMe page with a target of £200 to help us buy more filament and fund production of more clips. I also made some NHS keyrings to sell in a bid to bolster fundraising, which helped us to far surpass our target. 

It was amazing how many friends and Stonegate colleagues got involved, with nearly 50 individual donations pouring in. Keith Treggiden, who is the manager of Slug and Lettuce, Rendezvous and Royal Oak in Weymouth, Dorset, even donated for a bulk order of keyrings that he delivered individually to each of his staff members on his bicycle to help lift their spirits. 

We managed to speed up our printing process, getting the time it took to print 22 clips down to just two hours and 24 minutes and were soon printing all day and through the night. 

We then expanded our capabilities again and started printing the face shields, ear savers and nose clips needed for masks, depending on what was most in demand. 

We also purchased our own sterilising kits so we could send everything we made directly to the hospitals, sterilised and individually sealed in Ziploc bags – speeding up our production process again. 

To date, we raised £1,237 which funded the printing of more than 4,000 units of either face shields, nose-clips-or-ear-savers, to protect those on the frontline fighting Covid-19 in hospitals.

The Packhorse Inn, Moulton, Suffolk 

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

Lewis Ryan, the soux 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 of doing something charitable and giving back to the local community.

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

Lewis’s mum, an NHS nurse in Suffolk, and her team were so exhausted when they got home that the last thing they felt like doing was cooking. This gave us the idea to cook meals for all of the frontline staff that had been working so hard to keep us all safe.

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 Food4Heroes to find hospitals that were in need of nutritious meals. They also helped us to organise logistics, such as packaging and labelling correctly, as it was something that we had never done before.

The first hospital we delivered to was Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. Three other team members volunteered to help Lewis cook, package and deliver the meals on a weekly basis. 

The cause soon gathered momentum with BBC Look East covering our 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 hospitals, care homes and hospices across East Anglia in desperate need of meals to support their staff.

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

Since we started the free meals initiative in April, our team of volunteers has raised more than £50,000 and cooked and delivered in excess of 25,000 meals to over 25 care homes, hospitals and hospices in the region. 

We have had overwhelming support from 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 from beneficiaries. 

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

The White Hart, Lydgate, Greater Manchester

On Thursday 19 March we closed the business due to a member of our team isolating as someone in their household had coronavirus. We deemed it sufficient risk that other members of our team could already have the virus and so to protect our staff and customers we closed. Twenty-four hours later The Prime Minister announced the lockdown of pubs.

Our head chefs at both the White Hart and sister restaurant Dinnerstone also donated all perishable foods that could not be frozen to the local food bank.

On 24 March, our teams donated their March tips to homeless charities, with the White Hart giving £1,783 to Shelter and Dinnerstone team giving £1,432 to Barnabus.

On 25 March, a request came from the council to see if we could provide accommodation. As our entire team was furloughed, the only way to do this was to ask for volunteers to help. Within 24 hours, 22 of the team had volunteered and so we re-opened the rooms free of charge.

On 27 March, NHS guests moved in. During the following 108 days we provided 685 free nights stay to frontline workers isolating from vulnerable family members at home including NHS doctors and nurses, care workers and police.

Our guests needed meals and so we looked at ways to raise money to fund this. We planned a beer give away for donations on Good Friday and I reached out to community groups for further volunteers for help and donations.

We now had over 30 volunteers which we split into three groups; chefs and waiters to prepare and package meals; housekeepers, receptionists and front-of-house staff to clean the rooms and rotate opening and closing the premises; and community volunteers to organise the Good Friday beer give-away.

On Good Friday in just two hours all the beer had gone with £4,947 raised. The community groups and individuals involved donated a further £2,975.

We converted our dining room into a self-service canteen for our guests – the bar fridges now contained prepared meals and microwaves were provided. We now had evening meals and breakfast each day for guests.

We then linked up with AgeUK in Oldham, which used to provide luncheon clubs five days a week before the national lockdown kicked in and AgeUK had to remodel its business into a delivery service providing cooked meals to vulnerable adults living alone with conditions like dementia. We started to provide meals five days a week, ranging from between 50 and 100 portions per day.

In early May, we were approached by the local round table who had provided the Royal Oldham ICU with energy bars and drinks. The ICU asked if this could be changed to nutritious meals as staff taking on 12-hour shifts couldn’t go to the hospital canteen due to all the PPE. 

We co-ordinated with the assistant director of nursing who arranged fridges and microwaves for meals, which on 18 May we started delivering at a rate of 50 meals a day, seven days a week, for the following six weeks.

However, the £8,000 raised at that point far wasn’t enough for all the meals we were preparing so I reached out again to community groups for more donations and to organise a pizza and beer for donations on Whit Friday, 5 June – traditionally the Saddleworth Brass Band contest day. This raised a further £1,682 taking overall donations to £12,554.

On Friday 26 June we delivered our last meal to AgeUK, our last meal to the ICU on Sunday 28 June with our last guests checking out on Wednesday 1 July.

The Golden Lion Inn, Redruth, Cornwall

When ordered to close by Boris Johnson, along with all other takeaways, restaurants and cafes, we immediately thought about the front-line NHS staff. We queued for hours to get into supermarkets for essentials that were often not there, how would they get a nutritious meal and still have some time to rest or spend time with family?   

Over a glass of wine, a plan was engineered. We placed a bank of fridges on the pub forecourt and stocked them with a selection of nutritious meals from the pub’s kitchen that could be readily heated every day.  

This allowed NHS staff to ensure they had some free time, without the worry of going to the shops or cooking.

It started with a small, self-funded, selection but steadily grew.

We advertised it through social media and phoned various NHS departments to let them know of our plan.

A lot of nurses and paramedics used the service, but we soon opened it up to any frontline workers, such as carers and the police. 

The majority of the meals were taken throughout the night, and looking back on CCTV, frontline staff would often wave or bow to the camera to say thank you – which was very heart warming. 

Once more and more people were hearing of our campaign, we started to get donations through the letterbox, thank you cards and even a box of chocolates.  One kind lady donated three sacks of potatoes and another donated a leg of pork, which all went to good use.    

We also delivered hot meals and drinks to all the staff and residents at Blackrock Nursing Care home in Troon, who were delighted. 

Another act of kindness was to ensure that Mr and Mrs Fenwick – an elderly couple in our hamlet – had a roast dinner delivered piping hot to their door every Sunday. Although it was only once a week, at least we knew they had a cooked dinner with plenty of fresh vegetables all through the lockdown.   

A takeaway was soon born which saw our usual high-quality meals stuffed into polystyrene boxes. We also offered a free delivery takeaway service to the elderly and the vulnerable that were shielding in the village. They could phone through an order and pay over the phone and a hot delicious meal was delivered to their doorstep. A service, which even now, we still offer to those currently shielding. 

All in all, more than 2,500 free meals have been given away. While a lot of people enjoyed their time at home, and basked in the sunshine, here at The Golden Lion, we fed people.

The Newbury, Newbury, West Berkshire

I’ve been landlord of the pub for over eight years now, and around 18 months ago opened 137 Gin Distillery in what used to be the pub’s back yard.

Right at the beginning of the pandemic I saw another distillery in my hometown of Bristol producing their own hand sanitiser to protect staff. I knew this was something I wanted to get involved in and offer my own community. 

As access to this commodity was becoming more and more scarce, it soon emerged that people had begun profiting from the situation – something I was not prepared to do – but I still wanted to be of some help here in my town.

After a lengthy planning conversation with local gin blogger, Debbie Burgess, we sourced the official recipe for sanitiser which I’m only able to produce due to my access to 96% ethanol and my distilling licence. In order to fund the resources, we set up a crowdfunding page and the idea progressed.

Using social media channels, local community groups, and support from counsellors, local publishers and broadcasters, we raised sufficient funds to enable production and before we knew it our sanitiser was being put to good use by local GP surgeries, care homes, meals on wheels services, soup kitchens and NHS hospices. 

Word spread quickly, and we continued to help more and more front-line services like South Central Ambulance and care homes as far afield as Bristol. 

On the day Thames Valley Air Ambulance came to collect their supply, we were fortunate enough to be the only pub and distillery selected to feature on Ross Kemp and Britain's Volunteer Army​ that aired on BBC One. 

The fundraiser is going from strength to strength. Most recently we extended our invite to all local independent businesses - ranging from construction companies to hairdressers, shops and stall holders – as they prepare to reopen. 

Even though the pub has now reopened this doesn’t mean our support will stop – we will keep supplying our sanitiser as long as there is demand, with any residual funds in the crowdfunder once closed to be donated to local charities. 

  • To vote for your winners, click here​ to read their stories and make your selection.

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