Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalists - Greene King Pub Hero

By Ed Bedington contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Challenging times often brings out the best in people and businesses, and the lockdown certainly proved that in the pub sector, with Greene King tenants outdoing themselves.

The Great British Pub Awards Pub Heroes 2020 aims to recognise the outstanding work that pubs did during the lockdown, despite the challenging circumstances they themselves had to face.

Ed Bedington, editor of The MA, which organises the awards, said: “We’ve seen some amazing examples of pubs really looking after their communities and keeping their businesses going in some really difficult circumstances.

“Greene King’s tenants were no exception and they really stepped up to meet the challenge head on.

“Working with the pubco, we’ve selected some of the best operators from within their estate to shortlist six pubs which did a fantastic job during lockdown.”

The six pubs shortlisted are:

The Orange Tree, Baldock, Hertfordshire

Their story

On the morning of Saturday 21st March, with a roaring hangover and my natural stubbornness, I decided to keep The Orange Tree, Baldock open. Off Licenses had been designated as essential businesses, and I had an off-sales license, so what the heck, I was going to open and beg forgiveness later if I had got it wrong. 

We reached out to suppliers and within a day or two we had a pretty well stocked shop. This was going to work!

With all the government support, help from Sarah Barron Greene King and most importantly offers of volunteer help from my staff and friends, it felt immoral to make any money out of what I was doing. In a flash of inspiration, it occurred to me that we wouldn’t be able to have any musicians playing in the pub, or indeed anywhere, and I knew many of those guys would suffer without the income. I called G La Roche from Balstock Music Festival and told him I was going to give any profit I made to those musicians – and asked if he and his team would manage that part of it for me, to give transparency and governance. I said I would add 10% to the cost price of everything to cover running costs, and then an extra 20% to raise cash for the newly formed Baldock Musicians Support Fund, and transfer the cash every week to them to decide who should get assistance, and to handle distribution.

So there we had it, The Orange Tree became an Off-License and Grocers. Doing it for no profit, something to pass the lock-down time away anyway. Within a few weeks we were crazy busy providing private, safe shopping for vulnerable people, NHS and other front-line workers in the daytime, and open to the public 3-7 every day and 12-3 at the weekends. We were taking ten grand a week, it was incredible. Volunteers rallied round, like Sean Smith doing the home deliveries, and those of The Orange Tree Crew who were able to help out whenever they could. I was also determined to keep the quiz going, and have been joined every Tuesday by over 100 people each week for the usual incompetent nonsense that we all seem to love. We also started On-Line Bingo, hugely popular and such a laugh. 

The Orange Tree started to make the journey back to being a pub again this Saturday, the 4th July, but I am so proud to be able to say that I never closed my doors. The Baldock Musicians Fund is now closed but in the 15 weeks since that Saturday morning back in March, we have raised an utterly incredible £22,119.25. 


The New Wellington, Newmarket

Their story:

As soon as the pubs were shut on the Friday, we had distributed 1000 leaflets to nearby homes offering a takeaway menu by the Saturday, for collection or delivery. 

We honestly were overwhelmed with the support we received. Every Sunday we have been hitting 100 takeaway roast dinners. Many of these have been delivered to elderly or vulnerable people.

We practised safe social distancing by putting food on the doorstep or on a small table for people who can’t bend down. We then rang the doorbell stepped way back and said hello to everyone. You could see this was people's highlight of the week sometimes and it was a lovely feeling knowing you had fed someone a good meal at a reasonable affordable price. 

We managed to keep the takeaway service going throughout lockdown delivering thousands of meals.


The Star, Godalming, Surrey

Their story:

On the Friday night we closed our doors as a public house, by 12pm the following day we were open as a fully operational takeaway, offering online quizzes, selling 'Pub in A Box', community meals, supporting a local charity, doing deliveries and takeaways of food and drinks (including real ale and cider- our true passion) and starting a major renovation in the main pub.

Not qualifying for a grant or any financial assistance (apart from the furlough scheme) meant that we didn't have the luxury of time to plan. We are so glad we did. We have over 500 more 'likes' on our Facebook page which is an increase of 50%, and this we feel is a fair reflection of how many new customers we have gained during lockdown. The response from the community has blown us away. We have been moved to tears sometimes by the support for what we have done.

We had the usual dilemmas, running a small kitchen is tricky when serving 20 customers in the pub, all of a sudden we were sending out over 200 meals a day.

We sourced takeaway boxes, and sealable containers for 2 or 4 pint drinks, insurance for drivers, food delivery bags and created an ordering system within 2 days.

We now have people reserving delivery slots weeks in advance which i think is a testament to it's success.

We started the Pub In A Box as a way to sell some of our bottle stock, we have now sent out hundreds to the local community. At 3 price points and containing your choice of stock and snacks ,the box also contains beer mats, a quiz and a glass. On Father’s Day morning we delivered 72 boxes.

We have been offering NHS discounts, community meals (chilled and sold at cost) and have had an outreach system where we would deliver free food to people who needed it.

we will be continuing the takeaways and deliveries, we now see it as an extra revenue stream, and a very successful one. Our weekly online pub quiz will also be continuing, with hundreds of views each week we think it is a useful marketing tool.

Facebook and instagram have come into their own, with a number of local community boards we have been able to quickly communicate with thousands of our customers.

We have also renovated the pub, removing 2 false ceilings in the main pub which has given us an incredible feeling of space.

We have been open every single day, only closing for a few hours this Sunday to train returning staff.

It has been exhausting, very rewarding and possibly a very good thing for our long term business plans.


The Chequers, Eversley Cross, Hampshire

Their story:

MD and Founder of Peach Pubs, Hamish Stoddart, set off on a mission at the start of lockdown to find a way of keeping the pub at the heart of the community., is a not-for-profit social enterprise, raising money through the sale of takeaway, shop essentials, food and drink. The Hubs raise much needed money to feed frontline workers and those most in need. A great initiative, not only for the charities and NHS but for the teams, they are loving helping!

One of the pubs that had great success as part of the initiative was the Chequers at Eversley Cross. Our team was full of enthusiasm and volunteered at The Chequers Hub, we were up and running in May serving the good stuff through takeaway and a retail shop and had a sellout first weekend!

Our pub was adapted from its usual layout to create a safe space with a one-way system for guests as well as designated working areas for the team so we could all be safe. A retail space was created and allowed guests to pick up all those items that were suddenly tricky to get hold of in supermarkets. As we got into the swing of things, we added to and altered the menu as we saw what was popular with guests during this unusual time. Burgers were a firm favourite, our lovely wines went down a treat and Sunday Roasts helped guests enjoy that indulgent family meal without all the cooking.

Getting the menu right and seeing strong sales meant we were building a surplus. This could then be put into feeding those in need. The Yourhub project produced 8000 meals for those in need during lockdown, key partners were the NHS, Care Homes and Homeless Projects.

We teamed up with initiatives such as Feed Our Frontline, Food4heroes and Foodshare networks in order to get ready meals to those who needed them. We were able to use our skills and facilities – volunteer chefs, pub kitchens and supply chain – along with our surplus to fund the meals. We also offered discounted food and takeaways to all NHS workers and elderly in need, just to do our little bit to say thanks and help those in our community.

Feedback throughout has been great, both from guests who are missing their local pubs and loved the chance to enjoy our takeaway meals, and also from those who have been supported by our meals to the community. We were lucky enough to even get a hand drawn card from a 4-year-old happy guest, thanking us for her fish and chips!

As well as the positive impact on the community, it’s been a great experience for us. The team volunteered their time to help us with the hub and I am immensely proud to have such an amazing team. We were also blessed with donations from Hogs Back Brewery, Andwell Brewery, Greene King & Chase Distillery, thanks to all for the support.


The Torfin, Edinburgh

Their story:

The Torfin started producing meals for those most in need in the community from the beginning of lockdown. Through our social media pages and word of mouth we began doing around 40 meals per day (3 deliveries per week).

All this was done with family members cooking, packaging and delivering all meals. As numbers steadily grew, and with more in need, the local community centre (Corstorphine Community Centre) came on board to assist with vetted and disclosure checked delivery drivers. 

Our numbers increased to around 350 meals delivered per week with a total exceeding 6000 meals by the end of this service in mid July. 

None of this would have been possible without assistance from suppliers, donations to our Just Giving page and donations provided by CCC.  

With local MSP Alex Cole Hamilton helping with deliveries, as well as mentioning our service in Scottish Parliament, & Lord Provost Frank Ross it became a real community effort. 

Whilst our free meals service has now come to an end we are still delivering Fish & Chips on a Friday night to the vulnerable who still can't make it out to The Torfin.

On top of this, the pub kept its community engaged and business ticking over with a number of initiatives, ranging from a cook along, in which the pub delivered ingredients before doing a live Facebook interactive cooking session. It also set up a fish and chip shop and working with other businesses conducted a number of “takeover” sessions which saw the pub do pizza and curry nights. 

Fountain Bar, Aberfeldy, Scotland

Their story:

On the 19th March we decided to provide a free evening meal for the isolated residents of Aberfeldy from the Fountain Bar. This started as quite an innocent idea to use up stock once we went into lock down. 

The food delivery service called "Feldy-Roo" however very quickly grew arms and legs. After delivering 10 free meals the first night, we produced a promotional video on Facebook and did a leaflet drop, the response was unbelievable, the next two nights we doubled the meals, by the end of the week we were delivering to over 100 homes.

The response to the project from the local community was amazing. Soon many volunteers came forward to help with the deliveries as we couldn't handle the numbers on our own. Other businesses came on board and we extended the service to two meals a day, a lunch and dinner service. We set up a funding team to raise finances and the project grew from strength-to-strength.

By April we expanded the project to the Villages to the East and West of Aberfeldy (covering a 25 mile radius), we were now delivering to 200 homes, twice per day. The residents also received a free newspaper. We were successful with many grant providers - The National Lottery, SSE, NHS Tayside, Foundation Scotland to name a few.  

To date we have raised over £130,000 for the project and have now delivered close to 40,000 free meals. We have received much media attention on TV, newspapers and radio. Our efforts have been mentioned at Parliament in both Scotland and in Westminster.

The project which started from the Fountain Bar, and where the main hub continues to operate from has simply been fantastic for the local community. It has brought generations together, formed business relationships and importantly kept our isolated and vulnerable residents safe.

The project is now winding down as we ease out of lockdown but we are still continuing to provide the service until the end of this month to those residents who are continuing to shield and need our support.

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