Feeding the Soul

Helping tackle loneliness with meals on wheels and community events at The White Hart, Yorkshire

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Rita Cox, publican of The White Hart in the South Yorkshire, village of Wadworth, took over the Star Pubs & Bars pub seven years ago.

The pub has always been the centre of the Wadworth community, offering a haven for the locals. As the only pub in a village with a large population of senior citizens Rita, who has been working in the pub industry for 38 years, has always offered a friendly environment where locals can come for a chat, some food and a cup of coffee.

Rita believes the pub should be at the centre of the community, offering something for all the locals, including its many elderly residents, with a friendly atmosphere.

She says: “They want to come in for a hot meal and have a chat. My lunchtimes are normally full even on Monday and Tuesdays. It shows people do want to come out and socialise if you put things on for them.”

Pub is hub for community groups

Pre the Covid-19 pandemic The White Hart offered a range of activities and groups which gave people a reason to come along to the pub and meet others, including WW meetings (Weight Watchers), keep fit classes and a toddlers group.

Community services help build connections

When Rita took on The White Hart she was asked to take on the local post office too, a service which is invaluable to local pensioners, not just practically but for their well-being.

Rita says: “They come in to get their pension and have a chat and a coffee. It is an important part of their week.”

When the first lockdown hit last March, Rita realised that the high number of elderly people in the village who live alone, and the many people shielding, couldn’t get access to food and many were facing social isolation. To help support them she launched a ‘Meals on Wheels’ service, which is still providing essential support to locals today.

I have been going to work every day and have interactions with people, some people don’t speak to anyone.

Partnering with local services

During this first lockdown Rita’s local council contacted her to ask her to extend her meals service to other local villages, as they had been receiving calls from people shielding and living alone who could not get access to food, with many also experiencing feelings of loneliness, Rita stepped in to help and is now delivering (or offering collection from The White Hart), around 400 meals a week. Rather than making it a profit-making initiative she offers the meals for senior citizens for just £5.

Rita says: “It is really satisfying for me as I know my meals are fresh, including fresh vegetables, and that it is giving them a substantial and nutritional meal.”

Feeding the soul

Rita often stops for a socially distanced chat while delivering the meals, as many recipients live on their own and are in much need of a chat. She says often just a quick word can really help lift somebody’s spirits.

The publican says she has experienced feelings of loneliness herself during this pandemic. “I’m a tough cookie and even I broke down some days. I am a single person and I don’t want to be at home on my own. I thought if I am struggling and feeling like this and having my off days, what are other people like?” she says.

Raising awareness of available support 

Recognising that many local people may need further help Rita has also put posts on Facebook and on the local online Wadworth forum, offering help such as delivering grocery essentials. She has also given out her personal mobile and the telephone number for the pub so that if anyone is feeling isolated they can call her for a chat.

Tips to other publicans:

  • Make the pub the centre of the community for everyone.
  • Loneliness is a growing problem and it is important to recognise it affects not just local people but pub staff as well.
  • Share your phone number so people can contact you for a chat and any practical help they need.