The Thornaby pub, which owner Julie Cooper started a decade ago to commemorate war veterans, won the Community Hero Award at the Great British Pub Awards 2021.
Cooper said the staff, who are “family”, do everything in their power to make everyone welcome at the bar, which “is not just a pub, it’s a community centre”.
She added: “It’s where we dish out food for people, it’s where we have our meetings, it's where the all the old age pensioners come, it's where lonely people come.
“[…] It doesn't matter what disability you've got, or where you're from, or what colour you are, or how old you are, you're welcome here.”
Giving back to the community
As well as hosting karaoke competitions, birthday celebrations, memorial services and school trips, Cooper saves a five minute slot each Friday to talk about mental health.
“There’s no stigma, and we tell people to reach out or call if they’re feeling down.”, she said, and added that her phone was open 24/7 for people needing to call or text.
She continued: “The Last Post is the first point of call for a lot of people, whether military or not military.”
The staff also deliver food from Greggs and Marks and Spencers to community members in need, and will use £10,000 from CocaCola to hire a minibus to take the elderly on trips, and build interactive digital displays in the museum.
Cooper said the most special thing she’d done for somebody was collect over 3,300 birthday cards to celebrate the 100th birthday of veteran and community member Tommy Trotter.
She said: “I thought that I would only get maybe 100. I got over 3,300 cards for him.
“I sat in a room and read them all one by one on a live recording. It took five hours a day for five days, and it was freezing cold.
“You couldn't move in the hall: everything, the tables, the floor, was covered. […] We danced with him as well, on top of the envelopes that were on the floor.
“[…] He said it was the best day of his life.”
It's party time
Cooper said whilst the staff were “over the moon” to win the award, it was the “cherry on the cake” for the community, who cheered whilst watching the ceremony virtually.
“In one way or another, [the pandemic] has hit a lot of people. So to have a party and a celebration after something as important as the Community Hero winner was just absolutely brilliant,” she said.
She added: “It’s a big, massive community. It just reaches out to everybody. There's no stopping us.”
The upstairs museum hosts an impressive array of war memorabilia donated by visitors, including a V1 “doodlebug”, two air-raid shelters, a hanging parachute and a Messerschmitt fighter plane.
There’s only one thing Cooper can’t get hold of, and that’s a bearskin. She said: “For years, I've tried to get hold of a bearskin.
“It's to go with a uniform that has it, and I would just love to finish the uniform off.”