Matt Lambert, CEO, Portman Group

At the point where COVID-19 was becoming an international crisis the groups which make up the alcohol sector responded in a most extraordinary and inspirational way. They took action across the country to ensure that communities were supported. Pubs, producers, charities, industry, and consumer groups all delivered on the ground where help was most needed.

Industry actions

We captured this work in the Supporting Communities report. In amongst the huge number of inspiring stories here are some key highlights:

  • Hand sanitiser – the industry stepped up to donate enough high strength ethanol to produce a bottle of hand sanitiser for every household in the UK.
  • Support to staff and communities – with many bartenders finding themselves out of work, the industry donated time and money to ensure that staff feel supported both financially and emotionally. Major industry players worked hard to support pubs against the threat of closure. In addition to this, pubs recognised their position as community hubs and lifelines to those living in isolated areas or conditions. They continued through the lockdowns to offer support to local communities by donating food and operating takeaway services.
  • Becoming COVID secure – for the brief periods in which licensed venues were allowed to reopen, the industry took every step to ensure pubs become safe, socially distanced environments where customers could properly relax.
  • Drinking habits – the emotional toll of lockdown on people’s mental health and wellbeing cannot be over-exaggerated. Concerns about excessive and even harmful drinking have been voiced throughout the pandemic. Organisations such as Club Soda and Drinkaware produced updated information and campaigns for those who may be struggling to moderate their drinking during such a turbulent time.

We could not possibly have anticipated the incredible and overwhelming reception that the actions shown in the report, and explored further in the accompanying blog series, would receive.

We announced the report with a short video, shared to our Twitter and LinkedIn pages. This garnered over 5,000 views and became our most engaged with post on both social channels securing shares and support from all of the major industry groups and producers. Several MPs, including the Business Ministers Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP and Paul Scully MP, publicly demonstrated their support.

In depth analysis and case study deep dives

The report was supported by a renewal of our blog series examining the work of the sector. The first series ran biweekly with blogs from our team and the sector. Between September and October 14 blogs explored the response to the first lockdown and the easing of restrictions. We heard from the British Beer and Pub Association, ClubSoda, Drinkaware, International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, Scottish Alcohol Information Partnership, Scotch Whisky Association, and the UK Spirits Alliance. Through the series we were able to launch our guidance on sampling via online sales; explore the trends in drinking behaviour showing that the majority of people continued to drink responsibly; look at sales data; and highlight the huge number of positive actions by our member companies though out the pandemic.

The interest in this series demonstrated that people wanted to be able to explore actions in more depth, so we knew that with the report launch we had the opportunity to explore issues with deep dive case studies. We heard from:

  • Ben Parker, a Senior Peer Support Manager for Central and North-West London NHS. He spoke of their work to support patients with alcohol dependency issues and about the difficulties, but also the advantages of the hybrid model working with people online and face to face, especially in securing the involvement of harder to reach groups.  Read more here.
  • Only a Pavement Away, a charity which works to get homeless people in employment within the hospitality sector and their work to support this community as they faced losing their jobs.
  • A new initiative set up by a number of industry players, All Hands to the Pump, which created a hub of information and resources for those working in the licensed trade.
  • The Drinks Trust which offered charitable support and access to over 5,000 bar workers, providing significant financial aid, as well as emotional support and vocational training with over 2,600 Covid-19 emergency grants worth £660,000; 24/7 confidential calls to counsellors and clinically trained psychotherapists; and access to online courses. Read more here.
  • The award-winning Horse & Jockey Pub in Melling, Merseyside which united its community by bringing together a volunteer squad to provide a range of support to the most vulnerable, so they didn’t go hungry or lonely during the pandemic. Read more here.
  • Last, but far from least, the Cooper King Distillery which turned over its production to make ethanol supplies to produce much-needed hand sanitiser and provided this free to more than 50 charities, health centres and key worker organisations. Read more here.

As an evidence-lead body we at the Portman Group sought to bring our evidence up to date.  In this blog it is clear from over 33 polls that most people continued to drink the same or less during the pandemic, however there were a small persistent group who drank more and who need significant targeted support.  We also carried out research into the return to pubs after lockdown and our work with YouGov showed that the public planned a cautious, careful return to pubs, something which has been borne out by events.

Wishing you well and goodbye

After running throughout this year so far, this post brings an end to our Supporting Communities blog series. Although the pandemic is not yet over the vaccines are brining hope. Here in Britain we are at last seeing the gradual relaxation of restrictions so I very much hope that we do not have cause to revise the series. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the organisation and people who contributed to report and blogs, as well as our many supporters who have shared the work covered in this series throughout its run.  I am confident that we will work together to learn from this challenging time and look forward to a much brighter future post COVID-19.