Meet the GBPA Pub Heroes finalists - Staff Welfare

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

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There has been no greater time of uncertainty for those working in the pub sector and the coronavirus pandemic saw teams separated and facing a daunting future during lockdown.

It is no secret that pubs and their customers rallied together in this time. However, The Great British Pub Heroes 2020 also wanted to recognise the hard work pubs have put in to give back to their staff amid the pandemic. 

A huge number of pubs applied to be considered for the Staff Welfare award, and it was tough work narrowing down the category to a select few.

Pubs in this category have gone above and beyond to look after their staff. They have supported isolated and vulnerable members of their teams, by checking in and signposting to mental health support or launching team fitness and wellbeing initiatives to get people active.

They have also invested a great deal at a tough financial time to ensure staff and their families were supported and not left in the lurch.

The shortlisted pubs explain their stories in their words:

The White Lion, Hebden Bridge

Lockdown hit us all in different ways, and it was tough especially for members of my team who live a long way from home. Our main concern was that our team was looked after. Our focus was to do everything we could to minimise the risk and impact to our people.

We made sure all our team was financially supported. Since most of our team are paid weekly, there was a huge concern that they would not be able to meet bills and keep their households afloat. We committed to paying each member of our team 100% of their wages out of our own savings before the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme went live. We also released holiday pay and advanced wages, also out of our personal savings, to ensure no one had financial difficulties.

We are part of the Hebden Bridge Business Forum where we aim to bring more visitors to our vibrant and unusual town that benefits all independent businesses within the town.  We are all part of the “Loyal to Local Campaign” encouraging locals to shop safely in their town as every penny counts on getting our businesses back on track and to keep us all afloat. We managed to get some local funding to issue safety packages to every business in Hebden Bridge. Thus, assisting to secure jobs in the town for The White Lion staff and hopefully many others.

Some of our team struggled with their mental wellbeing during lockdown. There was a lot of apprehension and anxiety because we were heading into the unknown. We offered mental health support, whether it was a friendly ear that listened, or whether it was a referral to locally based charities and organisations that would be able to offer professional help.  

We kept a special watch over a couple of key staff members who we knew would struggle over lockdown, one who is a long way from home with no family in the area and another who suffers with crippling anxiety.  We looked after all the team but these in particular had regular contact with us.  We kept a watch on their Facebook postings as this was generally an indicator of how they were doing and an indicator if they were struggling.  

We could not ignore the situation we were in, we had to ensure our whole team could face it head on. Being as responsive as possible is the best way out of it. We kept communication fully open, we constantly reminded our team that they could contact us 24/7 with any questions, problem or if they just wanted a chat. We used Facebook chats, regular Zoom calls, individual calls and texts to ensure everyone felt involved and still part of our team. 

During lockdown we also refurbished the pub, maintaining social distancing measures at all times, we welcomed a number of our furloughed team who volunteered their spare time to help us with the transformation. From weeding the driveway to picking up a paintbrush, we kept our team engaged and informed of our progress.

We also found that our team members that came and volunteered their help had a sense of ownership in their work, and when they returned from furlough, they took such pride in what they created.

We were delighted when we retained 100% of our team post-lockdown.

We have welcomed everyone back and we are looking ahead to a successful summer.

Linwood Farm

Pubs are more than just bricks and mortar: they’re at the heart of the community and bring everyone together, especially in times of crisis. 

Linwood Farm, part of Farmhouse Inns dining & carvery, is situated on Phoenix Retail Park in Linwood, Paisley. Whilst the area was renowned as the centre of car manufacturing in Scotland during the 1970s-80s but following their closure the local economy declined. Although there has been some investment in the area through retail and distribution, it continues to be economically and socially challenging. Many of the major employers from the area have moved into the city of Glasgow, leaving mainly service sector jobs available locally. 

Kendal Simmonette became general manager of Linwood Farm in May 2018, inheriting a problematic site that had suffered from previous poor leadership. Consequently, the pub team had low morale and low stability and retention, leading to a high team turnover with little personal development, career progression and engagement. 

During her tenure, this has transformed to become a real centre of excellence within the region, with improvements in engagement, retention and career progression amongst the team, ultimately leading to consistent sales growth in the face of increased competition. She has worked tirelessly to set an example of strong leadership, and this is reflected in her approach in maintaining team morale during the furlough period. 

Kendal was aware that team members may cope with furlough differently: whilst some may enjoy a sense of freedom, others may feel isolated, worried or angry. Subsequently, several activities were delivered to maintain regular contact, alleviate boredom and have fun. 

Maintaining staff morale 

• Weekly fun and interactive activities such as quizzes, Tik Tok top video quiz, scavenger hunts and more. Each week, the winners were sent a hamper organised by Kendal. 

• Members of the pub leadership team with children were sent movie treat boxes, to help keep the kids occupied whilst enjoying a night in as a family during lockdown. 


Financial support 

• Team members in need of financial support during the pub’s closure were offered tailored advice and personal loans organised by Kendal 

• Teams were encouraged to use the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and for employees that qualified for additional financial support through Greene King’s Team Member Support Fund, Kendal helped with the application process, which was subsequently successful. 


Ensuring emotional wellbeing 

• Contact details for the pub leadership team were circulated alongside the EAP contact numbers for the team to utilise 

• Team members were messaged individually each week, with those living alone receiving an additional phone call ensuring that they had regular company 

• Team group chats to keep the team informed of updates for the pub, the wider Greene King business as well as events within the local community and across Scotland. 

Unsurprisingly, the team returned to work raring to go with training completion at 100%. Within five days of reopening, the pub was achieving sales growth, demonstrating the value of strong leadership to inspire employees, build morale and achieve results.

The Bowgie Inn

With The Bowgie's temporary closure in March, owner Sally Pickles had to furlough the entire team of 29 – but she made it her mission to keep in contact to protect their very special company culture and the team's mental and physical wellbeing during the lockdown and isolation. From online group chats to virtual team yoga sessions and video calls with every staff member to check everyone's ok - she led the way with creating a 'virtual' workplace, when a physical one was not possible. 

The Bowgie is incredibly lucky to have the most amazing team and there’s nothing more important to Sally than making sure they’re all ok during the challenging times. Even in these extraordinary circumstances, Sally didn’t take her focus off the company culture which she has worked so hard to develop. Sally established various, unique ways to protect The Bowgie’s special culture including using a Facebook group to share photos and updates from Crantock, media articles relating to the pandemic, government information and fun social media posts. 

She set up a messenger group for all the team to have daily banter, posting walks, photos, videos, movie recommendations, family and pet photos, local offers, money saving tips and most importantly, giving moral support for each other. It’s times like these that bring out the best of humanity too, and Sally always made sure that her staff felt part of the new ‘virtual’ Bowgie at a time when they couldn’t be there in person.

Sally also arranged regular video calls with every member of the team. One of The Bowgie team was due to participate in a rugby tour with his college, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. These were one-off opportunities that The Bowgie’s young team members missed out on and Sally really sympathised with that. Stress levels and anxiety were no doubt on the rise, making it even more important to ensure that the team felt supported - their mental health was Sally’s top priority.

The Bowgie organised live stream yoga sessions with their regular coach, Issey Yoga, so that team members could maintain some of their normal wellbeing at work activities. Socialising is a huge aspect of life at The Bowgie and Sally did everything she could to recreate their culture online. It was all about supporting our team, keeping morale and energy levels high and staying in touch during this unpredictable time. 

Sally organised online training relating to health and safety, and customer service training sessions for staff who wished to take part. This definitely helped to relieve boredom for some and save time when The Bowgie were back up and running. One night, Sally even organised for the whole team to go stargazing together using an app - it’s something you can do remotely together and the team had the best time looking for stars and satellites! The Bowgie’s team are everything, and their wellbeing is the most important thing to Sally. They ensured that their team got through the pandemic together.

The Wiremill Lakeside Pub & Inn

At 20:35 on 16 March we said goodbye to Billy, he had managed to get one of the last flights out of London to Oz. 

We lost Lizzy to Thailand the day later. 

Then we focused on the team staying. 88 in total. As news trickled out about furlough and the team was protected, we continued with the various projects across the pubs, but the Wiremill became our hub of operations. 

At 8am on Saturday 21 March I sent the third WhatsApp message to the entire business. We were closed, but we weren’t stopping. As long as people needed our help, we would be there. 

For 105 days we communicated daily with the teams. Videos of what we were doing, challenges to the wider teams to volunteer for fruit picking, NHS, supermarket jobs, cooking homeless meals at Somers Town, deliveries to isolated and elderly. The senior team stepped up; quizzes, competitions, general comms & touching base with all of the team. It became the backbone of our commutation. 

Four of the recent employees didn’t qualify for furlough so we moved them to the pub and put them into the hotel rooms. We asked them to work part time and we paid them from the income from the pub shop. It’s difficult to isolate this to just the Wiremill as we have the other three pubs, but it is here we highlighted just what they were all a part of. 

By day 65 we realised it was time to focus on reopening, whenever that might be. So, stupidly I took the challenge “Get fit, get ready”. We have an online Yummy Academy and the goal was to get all of the teams fully qualified for re-opening. As well as that we needed something to gel them for a common goal, so I volunteered to start running. What a great idea that was, but it worked! 

350km later. Five holes gone on the belt and a host of new clothing required. We have a fully qualified team at Level 3 on the Academy that we have never had before. Our team began challenging the fitness updates and began running, getting fit and getting ready. They never expected me to last the cause, as each day passed that I did, they grew in confidence we could get through this and out of the other side. 

Over half of our workforce volunteered either with us or outside of the business to help people. Every member of the team demonstrated how they were helping people in zoom meetings, calls, social posts and more, it turned from a driven comms strategy from the top to a group driven social tool. 

We have achieved an extraordinary amount in lockdown and none of it possible without the sheer stubbornness and relentless energy of us as leaders, but totally delivered with our teams. Some individuals stood out, but the entire business stood up. 

Every member of the team is now back at work. We are recruiting for four new positions.

Virgins & Castles

Going into lockdown, we put together a communications plan to keep the team informed about what was happening nationally that could affect them at home, what was happening in our sector and what our plans were with the pub and how we were planning to navigate our way through Covid-19. Everyone was furloughed and we didn't want to lose anyone from the team.

We used email, WhatsApp and Zoom to keep in touch. As part of our leadership team, we have a Head of People role which plans and manages the wellbeing of our teams across our businesses. We also run an external catering business called Caviar & Chips and one of our core values is collaboration and so the wellbeing of our teams is always a primary concern.

We started at the end of March with a "wellbeing check-in". It was a simple email to see how people were coping and sharing tips and ideas for entertainment, staying safe and learning new things. We structured this in our internal communications and starting in April we set out what we called "Five ways to wellbeing" including: 

1 Learning 

2 Being Active 

3 Taking notice 

4 Connecting 

5 Giving 

Each week we focused on one of these themes and shared ideas, links and resources as well as getting the team to share with each other. As an example for "learning week" we arranged with our wine suppliers for the team to be able to access online training to learn about wines. Not only was this interesting and informative, but also helped them in the roles back in the pub ready for re-opening. 

At Easter we sent each of the team a pre-prepared Sunday roast and bottle of wine to enjoy with their family at home.

In May we supported Mental Health Awareness Week with the theme of kindness and each member of the leadership team shared what kindness meant to them with a short video which we shared with the team and across social media. We also sent a "care package" to each member of the team

In June it was Carers Week and so we used this as an opportunity to signpost our team members to information and resources to support them as we know that some members of the team were caring for parents or elderly family members. 

In June, as we learnt more about the potential for re-opening in July, we scheduled wellbeing meetings over Zoom calls for each member of the team with our pub manager and our head of wellbeing. These gave every member of the team a chance to talk through their concerns, worries or any questions they had as well as for us to share how we planned to bring them back to the pub safely and how we'd have systems and processes in place. Everyone has now returned to work and we're celebrating 5-star reviews.

The Queen's Head

Throughout the lockdown we communicated with all our staff, with weekly texts, (comments such as "just checking in, are you ok"), Zoom staff meetings which were all about maintaining staff morale, asking staff about new found hobbies - we now have three expert bakers! Importantly, we asked staff about their families and distant relatives. Without making promises that I could not keep, I assured them all that we had a very sharp business focus for the coming year. The target was to try to keep all 11 staff in work on the same pay, conditions and training regimes that we had established long before lockdown. The four staff who were doing Level 3 apprenticeships continued to do their coursework throughout, and although the assessment method had changed from observation to a licensee's evidence statements, we managed to guarantee continuity throughout. On the third week of lockdown, I was acutely aware that staff may become anxious about contracting Covid-19, so all staff were sent an NHS document on Covid anxiety, and reminded that through Hospitality Action all staff have an Employee assistance programmes (EAP) which they can use at any time of the day or night.  We have three fully qualified mental health first aiders, including myself, who spoke as a sub group on two occasions in the lockdown. 

Greene King provided a huge amount of positive and encouraging material by email weekly. This was all copied in to all staff.  In addition, the weekly videos from Wayne Shurvinton, our managing director, were very helpful and enjoyed by the whole team. The team were also made aware of the financial support provided by Greene King which ensured that our business was protected for the future. Our BDM, Drew Milne offered a huge amount of support and encouragement in the lockdown which I cascaded down to the whole team.  In the final week of closure we held a socially distanced full staff meeting on our patio.  This was to share important pre-opening documentation about Covid 19 prevention and compliance.  We used an independent company (Sure Foot Soultions Ltd) to prepare our documentation and audit our premises.  We used our general manager, Sammie Harris and manager, Eleanor Clavin to manage this process with me.  The result of which is that at the end of the meeting, our staff  feel confident and safe, and feel that we are doing the same for our customers.  We achieved a Gold Standard for our Covid-19 preparations, and this was an achievement shared by all staff as all staff were involved in it.

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