General Manager of Locals pub, the Fox & Pheasant in Stoke Poges, Terry Rigg, found pub closures hard to handle. But his two dogs and a spot of DIY helped him through.

We cooked up the pub’s unused turkeys to deliver Christmas meals to nurses on the Covid ward

When the government announced that they were closing pubs in March 2020, I wasn’t massively surprised because I’d seen my pub becoming quieter and quieter over the course of a few weeks. People seemed to be nervous about going out. But even so, I honestly didn’t think we were really going to close.

On the night of the first closure, I was upstairs watching the news. I came down and it was such a weird feeling. We were all shellshocked by the suddenness of it. One of the older customers said it must have been what it was like during the Blitz. After everyone went home, I found myself just sitting in this empty shell – a place that’s usually buzzing and is the centre of the village – and I thought, what am I going to do now? I live here alone, and it was a very odd feeling. Some of the team came in the next day to help clean the pub down and properly close up. It was then – when we were taking the spirits away and stacking tables and chairs – that it really hit me.

The hardest thing was ringing people to cancel their bookings for that weekend. Many customers hadn’t heard the news yet, so were totally shocked. But even worse was when I had to do it all again for the second lockdown. Calling customers up to effectively cancel their Christmas festivities was dreadful. We have a lot of elderly customers who were planning to come for a Christmas meal because otherwise they wouldn’t see anyone. I had 230 people booked and there was a lot of crying on the phone. It was really tough. When the third lockdown came I was left with so much stock for Christmas – the fridges were full of fresh turkeys and the pub had thousands of pounds worth of food and drink – that I sat in my office and broke down. My assistant manager came in and told me we’d tackle it all together, so we got on the phone and donated turkeys to local hospices and care homes. I also worked with the church, cooking and delivering meals to residents who were on their own, and delivered meals to the nurses working on the Covid ward of our local hospital. I’d heard they weren’t allowed to use the canteen and were just eating sandwiches, so we cooked off some of the pub’s turkeys and delivered roasts to them.

Supporting Each Other

The hardest part was the loneliness. I’ve been in this industry for 20 years; I’m used to having lots of people around me, and to have everything taken away and being left isolated was hard. We had area manager support groups and I had 36 people working for me, aged between 16 and 70, and found staying in contact crucial. In fact, I formed a support bubble with one team member who has worked at the pub for 39 years. He’d pop in for a coffee and a chat. But the winter was hard. I felt really low and couldn’t snap out of it. The short days and cold and darkness made everything worse. I went to the doctors and he suggested antidepressants, but I didn’t want to take them.

I was sitting in this empty shell and i thought, what am I going to do now? emotional time

Staying Busy

Instead, I tried to focus on the positives. I did a lot of DIY, which I’d never done before, and tried to keep fit in the pub garden. I spent time training my two dogs, Lucy and Rosie, which was rewarding. I also took them on walks in the local countryside, which I hadn’t had time to explore since moving in 18 months before the pandemic. But what really helped was that Greene King stayed in touch with us. I know they handled things a lot better than other companies because I have friends in the industry, and their stories are not so positive. We were able to reopen on 12 April 2021 because our huge three-acre garden made social distancing easy. Greene King invested in a pergola and lights the November before, so it all looked amazing and we went from zero to 100 in no time at all, taking £5,500 on the first day. That first week we experienced record sales. I was buzzing. I had never imagined it would be like that on reopening – everyone was so bubbly – it felt like a celebration every day.

My team worked so hard after being off for such a long time, but they were happy to do it. They said that Greene King had looked after them so well through the pandemic, and they were just really delighted to be back. We all were.