Eight weeks ago Coronavirus (COVID-19) seemed like a distant problem in faraway places. We were on the other side of Christmas, taking well-earned breaks after a stonking festive season and planning the year ahead. We were in the midst of our 2020 Making Life Peachy Tour. Our goal is to be Best Gastropub Company On the Planet. We are empowering our GMs and their pub teams to make a difference and life better for each other, our guests and the communities we work and live in. Our Peach Leaders and Chef Days had begun, talking Hospitality and Serving the Good Stuff with our Managers.
Seven weeks ago the news seemed to be consumed with Coronavirus data, we witnessed individuals forcibly removed from their workplaces in Wuhan and families flown home from China, ferried in buses to isolation units in Merseyside. We were still comparing this virus to the common flu and what was the fuss? Every year tens of thousands poor souls are taken over winter what was different here? The first two cases are confirmed in the UK.
Five weeks ago, for the fourth year in a row we were celebrating being one of the Times Top 100 Best Companies to work For. A thousand or more people in a room raising a glass, congratulating each other, hugging, drinking and dancing. People spoke about the virus, but it didn’t affect us, there were so few cases in the UK – less than 10.
Four weeks ago we took this celebration out to our teams, visiting the pubs, thanking them for the great work they do, sharing how much we appreciated their efforts, raising a glass and listening, really listening to the different ways they Make Life Peachy every day.
Three weeks ago the mood shifted, it’s on all our minds, it could affect our families, our loved ones. Our European neighbours are shutting their borders, Italy closes schools and universities and the virus is in 81 countries, 90,000 confirmed cases and 3000 deaths. There are now 34 confirmed cases in the UK. We agree it’s time to start gathering information, informing the team and changing the way we work to help reduce this virus. We set up twice weekly announcements, we create information pages open to all team. In the middle of this with new restrictions in place we’re refurbing and preparing to re-open our beautiful pub – The Boathouse.
We keep Making Life Peachy for each other and our communities, following the recommendations, washing our hands, listening to guests, thinking about how we can help. We try and help our teams with hand sanitiser and thermometers but like the rest of the UK we struggle to get either and what is available is not fit for purpose or ridiculously overpriced. Anxiety is rising but at least we have toilet roll!
Two Weeks ago Italy, closely followed by Spain go into lockdown and the World Health Organisation officially declares COVID-19 a Pandemic. Our travelling Peaches, mainly Aussies but from all over the world have made the heart-breaking decision to fly home while they still can. Their trips and our time together cut short but we know it’s the right thing to do. Many of our European team also choose to go. All these people are Peachy, joined our family and have had to leave. Will UK ever allow Europeans in again. Is Europe no longer Peachy?
We update our teams daily, share our concerns over any unnecessary travel, brief and continually reinforce every recommendation we have been given to help control the spread and keep each other safe. We also start the ‘Corona Collaboration’ group amongst partners and senior team to share ideas and keep each other up to date on what we’re hearing both externally and within our teams.
We introduce ‘bump – don’t hug’. This is really tough for us; we are a family in Peach. I love watching our teams come together for training days or meetings, hearing genuine squeals of excitement and joy when we get to spend time together, and this always starts with a hug and a kiss. We are still training our teams, we’re getting The Boathouse ready for its big re-launch, we have a friends and family day on the Sunday and enjoy each other’s company while bumping elbows and sharing worries about what we fear might be around the corner.
Last week following the Governments recommendation to ‘avoid pubs’ we explore other ways we can continue to function as a business including reduced menus, take away options and local mini markets. Hub (not Pub) is the strategy now. The senior management team meet to discuss the true implications of the closure of our pubs. For the first time three of us are attending it virtually, but we’re taking no risks. It’s a sobering meeting, we’re talking about our teams’ futures, our future as a business. We prepare to scale back, all unnecessary activity cancelled for the time being with a view to being back up to speed from 1st July 2020.
On Friday 20th March, a historical day for so many in our industry, we shut our pub doors, entering a never before experienced moment with no end date in sight. At this point we also know schools and nurseries will be closed for all children except Key workers, another worry for the many families we support. Although tough, we have to be positive. The government is paying 80% of our teams’ salaries, allowing us to move forward without the feared layoffs. We could not be more grateful in these confusing and challenging times. We donate our now cancelled Mother’s Day Feasts to local charities and NHS workers.
Today as a country we are in lockdown. There are 6650 confirmed cases and 335 people have lost their lives*. Our pubs are closed, our teams will continue to be supported through this and we’re looking at different ways we can support our local communities.
We encourage everyone to look after yourself in order to look after others – follow Government advice and only go out for essentials or exercise. Of course there are still ways you can keep yourself busy and spread joy where you live…
- Join one of the many free online exercises classes, take it out into the garden if you can or walk the dog, start Couch to 5k, mow the lawn but definitely get some fresh air.
- Write cards with your contact details for your neighbours, elderly or not – we may all need support at this time. Remember to wash your hands before you write them and after posting them!
- Download Houseparty, Zoom or one of the many other apps that will help you stay connected online – isolation doesn’t need to feel isolating! Plan an online get together, facebook watch parties etc. This week we will all be enjoying Staggys’ Glitter Ball disco in our own homes.
- When you do venture out to the shops only get what you or your neighbours need – don’t be an idiot!
- Share positive acts of kindness, ways you’ve found to lighten the mood and make this challenging time easier for everyone.
Rest assured we will be beavering away in the background with our virtual meetings, preparing for the day we can once again open our doors and continue Making Life Peachy, but until then stay safe, stay positive and stay Peachy!
*As of 1pm on Monday 23rd March