COVID-19 saw pubs play a greater role in their communities than ever before

Emma McClarkin, CEO BBPA

It’s almost two months to the day that pubs reopened on 4th July, following 15 weeks of forced closure during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Having now all enjoyed that first, glorious pint of draught beer back in our local and a classic pub dinner or two as part of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, it certainly feels like normality is starting to return to our pubs and life as a whole.

After months of not being able to see loved ones and friends, our pubs are back to what they do best – bringing us together under one roof in a safe environment. If we are being honest, after months of being cooped up in the same house with family, getting out to the pub and socialising with others is probably what many of us missed the most in lockdown!

The local pub has always been the place that brings us together. A place to talk, a place to sit and think, a place to meet others – along with playing a vital role in tackling loneliness. As life returns to a semblance of normality once more, our pubs are again doing what they have done for centuries – bringing us back together as the heart of the community.

Having to close during lockdown has been tough, not just for the industry but also for those who rely so much on their pub. But this didn’t stop our pubs from continuing to provide vital support and services to the villages, towns and cities they operate in. In fact, inspiring pubs and publicans played a greater role in their communities than ever before adapting services to become shops and take away deliveries, as sometimes the only public convenience for miles for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The start of the lockdown for pubs on March 20th immediately saw a reaction from our locals to continue to serve their communities in innovative ways despite being closed. When Mother’s Day on 22nd March became an early COVID-19 casualty, pubs across the UK stepped up. Places such as The Cross Keys in Coleorton, Leicestershire, and The Old White Bear in Keighley, Yorkshire, delivered all their Mother’s Day lunches and dinners from their pub kitchens to their communities instead. Others, like Brawn’s Den in Durham and The Myrtle Tavern in Leeds, donated all the food they’d planned to serve to local food banks and vulnerable residents instead who were unable to shop for themselves.

As the lockdown went on, pubs continued to support their communities, all whilst facing severe uncertainty over their futures. In the middle of the crisis, pubs played an active role in supporting the NHS and staff on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19. Many pubs, such as The Plough & Harrow in Leytonstone and Lesters in Margate, donated food and drinks for NHS staff and other key workers to enjoy both on and off shift. Several others, including Greene King’s and Shepherd Neame’s managed pub operations, offered free car parking and accommodation to key workers and NHS staff during the crisis. One pub, The Clifton Arms in Blackburn, raised more than £400 in just half an hour to supply care packages to NHS staff at their local hospital and those in isolation in the local community who were unable to leave home.

As life – and our pubs – steadily start the journey back to business as usual, they are reopening to a new normal. At the BBPA we have seen our members tackle this new way of life head on, going above and beyond to make their customers feel safe, meaning they can return to their role of bringing communities together. But they are far from out of the woods yet and face a long road to recovery. Trade is down and consumer confidence still has some way to go to return to what it was like prior to the lockdown.

It would be easy to forget the vital support pubs have provided during the COVID-19 lockdown to so many. But we cannot and must not ignore their incredible efforts, and now Government needs to continue to support them in return. Granted, some very important support has been provided by Government, recognising the vital role pubs continue to play in supporting the economy and local communities. Without further support now though, it would all be for nothing.

An important step as we approach the Autumn Budget should be to cut beer duty, and I urge anyone who supports local pubs and brewers to visit and sign the petition urging the Government to support Britain`s pubs and breweries in their recovery. Doing so will help ensure the Great British Pub can continue to serve our communities for generations to come.

This blog post previously appeared in the Propel Newsletter, it can be read here: