How has 2020 changed people and pubs?

‘When you’re a publican and you’ve retrained as an actress. Just call me Lucky’

Self-sanctioned baptism of fire: 'Ironically, the one area I do now feel in control of is the other side of my career as a performer'
Self-sanctioned baptism of fire: 'Ironically, the one area I do now feel in control of is the other side of my career as a performer'

Related tags Coronavirus Pub Tenanted + leased Freehouse Essex Gastropub

To kick off a series looking back at a turbulent 12 months in the on-trade, Debbie Baisden, a multi-tasking, performing publican, explains how she is confronting Covid-19 challenges with hopes to continue both her careers in the arts and hospitality.

One of my more recent Twitter posts read: “When you’re a publican and you’ve retrained as an actress. Just call me Lucky”. Who would have thought both of the hardest hit industries throughout Covid 19 – namely hospitality and entertainment – would be closed a week before Christmas? 

Considering Covid has had us on the run since March, you would think it would want Christmas off. And let’s not forget our colleagues in the rest of the country. Those who have been enduring restrictions for many more months than where I am, here in my gastropub in the heart of Essex. 

We recently opened our pub in July 2019 after an extensive refurbishment, having previously worked in wet-led pubs and mobile bars, being the first company to introduce kegerators to Twickenham and the O2.  

We knew we could handle a food house, but what a massive learning curve it was. I will never underestimate the skills and work ethic of restaurant managers ever again. If only someone had warned me about how much time I would spend in the pot wash.  

Being one to look on the positive side, when the first lockdown hit, we took it as an opportunity to consider where we could go next after this self-sanctioned baptism of fire. 

Nine months later, post an Eat Out to Help Out scheme we could not take part of as our team was too small, we lit up a mobile wood burning pizza oven for the garden and later installed a new electric pizza oven for the kitchen. Yes, you may have guessed stone baked pizza has been a popular addition, alongside a new service of other take-away products. 

I find myself now, stopping and considering what lays before us in the upcoming months of January and February.  

As a new business here at the Rayleigh Arms, we only have one winter to compare. Although we are not alone, as alas it seems no one can compare anything in this current climate and, let’s face it, can anyone really say for sure when we will reopen and under what restrictions?


Ironically, the one area I do now feel in control of is the other side of my career as a performer. 

Over the past seven years or so while multi-tasking with bars and a two-year stint in teaching, I have developed a comedy pub landlady character called Dolly Slatemen – just think Bet Lynch, Kat Slater and Pat Butcher rolled into one.  

I had always been somewhat nervous of performing, but Dolly seemed to encourage me to continue with the arts and jump of the periphery into stand up and writing.  

Together with the restrictive tensions of Covid, I felt a new confidence in getting out as many shows as possible before the first lockdown left us stranded. Having just written a one-woman comedy show called “Her and The Change in Me” Dolly is joined by a judge and a doctor, other alter egos my mind has invented. 

My last performance occurred at the head office of UNISON, the public service union, in Euston, London. With, may I add lots of reference to the menopause – don’t groan lads, believe me it’s in your best interest to know more than less on this subject – the show was well received and as I shuffled back down Euston High Road with the whole set on my back and a skip in my step, I wondered when my next performance would be in the Covid landscape.  

Over my publican Covid journey I’ve carried out a couple of online comedy courses and invented an online platform called @britpublive where I raised funds for Refuge. 

Now with our front doors shut once more, I have settled down to write an application for Arts Council to develop myself as an artist, while I readjust this week’s take away menu.

  • How has 2020 changed you and your pub? We’re asking people from all parts of the on-trade to tell us how 2020 has reshaped not just your pubs, but the people behind them. If you are interested in writing 400–500 words outlining the struggles, triumphs and changes you’ve endured this year, then please contact Fghneg.Fgbar@jeoz.pbz​.

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