Sorcha was a lynchpin at the heart of our pandemic response, co-ordinating operations teams and communications.

Sometimes we opened pubs, then closed them four days later

I work in the transformation team and in nonpandemic times my job involves looking at, scoping out and implementing change to the business. I look at new ways of working to be more efficient. More often than not that involves IT, so as an example, I was involved in developing the Kingdom and Order & Pay apps.

But my background isn’t in tech. I grew up in hospitality – I was a kitchen porter at 14 and then worked for Pizza Express and got my first site at 21. I worked for a few pub companies before Greene King and understanding the business at a real grassroots level means I recognise when people feel uncomfortable about change and require support. I also understand the importance of putting myself in other people’s shoes, especially when it comes to communications – I anticipate who is receiving information and how it might make them feel.

Fast Moving

I remember very clearly when Covid-19 first appeared on my radar because I was planning a trip to Venice and was obsessed with the news, wondering if I’d be able to go. I went, but when I returned there was an outbreak of the virus in Brighton and managers were nervous. My boss said, ‘We could do with your help thinking about what would happen if we had to close because of a Covid outbreak.’

So, my first job was to create a checklist based on a ‘What if a pub had to temporarily close?’ scenario. By the next day it was, ‘What if we had to close more than one pub?’ and two days later: ‘Where ARE those checklists?’.

It was an incredibly fast-moving situation and we were having lots of cross-team meetings. Because of my background in the pub industry, I created checklists by envisaging walking around a pub, room by room, imagining exactly what needed to be done. The following week I was a bit unsettled to see Army tanks on the motorway heading south, and a few days later we were about to push the button on closing London pubs when the Prime Minister came on TV to do a briefing. When he announced he was closing ALL pubs, I was so shocked: I remember that meeting like it was yesterday.

The health aspect of covid almost passed me by... I worked such long hours, I barely left the house.

Rising To The Challenge

It was a good job that we’d pre-empted things and put theoretical plans in place because it meant that the operations comms team could then swing into action rolling out the closing up checklist. Those initial weeks of pub closures were a blur of very long days and nights. I was working from a room in my house and for three months I barely left it. The health threat of Covid-19 almost passed me by, because I just got everything delivered to my door, worked solidly, and didn’t leave the house.

Of course, although at home, I absolutely did not work alone. We created the Phoenix Team which included HR, the risk and property teams (who decided whether to board up pubs and turn off water); supply chain(who removed food from pubs and donated it to good causes), marketing, digital, Pub Partners, EPOS and of course, the internal and operations comms teams. I pulled everyone together and made sure information was cascaded down to ops managers and then onto business development managers and general managers. I also led the retail operations team.

Second Wave

But if the early days were crazy, by November 2020 I thought I was going to lose control. We had all the varying tier systems and different things going on in different countries and nothing was aligned. I had spreadsheets, books and Post-it notes everywhere… it felt like I’d created about 420 checklists in 14 months. The need to communicate and distribute information was endless – sometimes pubs were opening and closing up again a few days later with local lockdowns and tiers constantly changing. Keeping track of that was a job in itself. Luckily, I have a good memory but I’m also very grateful for the operations comms team I had working with me because they were all phenomenal.

The pandemic was a massive learning experience for me. I’ve learnt about sides of the business I didn’t know too much about, like the brewery and Pub Partners. And while it was exhausting, there was an incredible feeling of being in the trenches together. We all said that we couldn’t imagine what the pandemic would have been like without Nick and the new leadership team. I was hugely grateful to be working – and working with them – at that time.