More Than a Pub

Meals on wheels and diverse range of community groups and activities at Brighton pub provide lifeline to locals at risk of social isolation

Join Inn logo

The team that refused to call last orders on a community-owned pub on a Brighton housing estate nine years ago, continues to work hard to call last orders on loneliness within its local area.

The Bevy, which is the only community-owned pub on a UK housing estate, exists to make a difference in the challenging neighbourhoods of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean and what a difference its big-hearted committee and team continue to make to its local community.

Wealth of community spirit and activities

Its passionate chair Warren Carter, manager Helen Jones and The Bevy staff and volunteers certainly live and breathe the ethos of the pub’s sign which says: ‘The Bevy More Than a Pub’, ensuring the pub is a hub of support to residents. Among the benefits it brings are a meals on wheels service and before the Covid-19 pandemic, a community café, training kitchen for young people with learning disabilities and hosting a wide range of groups and events to encourage people to come along and meet others.

Prior to the pandemic The Bevy was helping to combat food poverty and supporting people living alone to come together by offering community lunches at the pub, with a hearty main and pudding available for around £4. So, when lockdown hit last March it was a natural step for its team to launch a meals on wheels service.

Maintaining contact and connection

Manager Helen Jones says: “We knew many of our elderly regulars don’t have close family members or other networks. Therefore, we knew it was crucial when Covid-19 closed the pub that we kept in touch with them and carried on providing healthy, nutritious food.”

She adds: “We also now help with meals for struggling families, as we are on an estate where families are being hard hit.”

Ingredients used to create the nutritious meals for Bevy Meals on Wheels (BMW) come from a wide variety of sources, including produce grown in the pub’s garden and charity FareShare, to avoid it going to landfill.

BMW has recruited a brilliant team of volunteers to help deliver meals from a safe distance, provide a friendly face for a chat, and offer any support needed, such as running errands or picking up prescriptions.

Use your local connections lots, they are great introductions. We are incredibly pleased that our experiences have enabled us to serve a wide variety of different groups.

Utilise existing networks to help outreach

To help ensure BMW reaches locals most in need the pub’s team phoned around regulars to find out if they needed support, leafleted the area and coordinated with its existing community partners including churches, community workers, sheltered housing providers and schools.

Training support for young people

The continuation of BMW also came out of a desire to further support people with learning disabilities who volunteer in the pub’s kitchens. Previously there has been no job lead on or qualifications gained by the young volunteers. But the BMW initiative has enabled the pub to link up with local college St John’s to develop a traineeship, which will help lead to work for the young people who help prepare, cook, and deliver the BMW meals.

Our intention is to help connect everyone in the community. We have made ourselves accessible to as many local groups that want to use us.
Lots of groups parachute on to what we do, and this broadens the experience that people get from The Bevy. We are open to all ideas and suggestions.

Royal thumbs up

Since the end of last March BMW has delivered an amazing 7,000 meals (currently around 70 meals daily), with the initiative now a permanent addition to the pub’s services. In recognition of BMW’s wonderful achievements since launch, during ‘Meals on Wheels Week’ last November, its staff, volunteers and meal recipients received a video call from the Duchess of Cornwall, patron of the not-for-profit organisation.

Volunteers: two-way benefit

Helen says that the value of all the pub’s volunteers, which enables them to provide such wonderful community support, is “immense and immeasurable”.  She adds: “They enable us not just to deliver the food, but also to keep an eye on people. But the wonderful thing is it is a two-way street and our volunteers are always sharing how much they get out of helping too.”

Creating opportunities to ‘Join Inn’

Before the pandemic, The Bevy was hosting a wide variety of clubs aimed at elderly and vulnerable people, including ‘Friday Friends’, a weekly lunch club which had up to 50 attendees; a bi-weekly dementia cafe and a ‘Bridge the Gap’ group, which focuses on lifelong learning and helps support people with a wide variety of challenges.

When The Bevy opened it invited already established community groups to use the premises, with a couple living along the road bringing its ‘Friday Friends’ club to the pub. The Bevy has also provided a home to many local community groups that would have had to stop after the building they were being held in closed.

Helen says: “The problem you still have to overcome as a pub is convincing people they can afford to come in, and for some people of a particular age group and some women, there are still barriers to overcome, associated with coming in to a pub. The activities/groups we run help break these down, giving them a reason to come in and socialise with people like them.”

Partner with others to widen offer

As well as setting up and putting on regular groups and events themselves, The Bevy team also partner with a wide range of organisations who host events at the pub. These include local groups ‘Open Strings’, whose work includes bringing music to the elderly, and Gladrags who share reminiscence items and costumes for attendees to dress up. Gladrags have also got people together at The Bevy to create community bunting, which can be used at the pub and loaned out for events around the area.

Other groups held at the pub include groups for parent/carers, family cookery, a Brighton Good Gym group (who stop to do half an hour of gardening at the pub during their running session) and ‘Brains at the Bevy’ which saw a series of monthly talks put on by Brighton University lecturers on everything from medicine to football.

She adds: “You need to create a culture where people feel like they can come forward with ideas and everything is valid.”

Helen believes that with the right offer and atmosphere publicans can help connect people in their local community and make a positive difference to their wellbeing.

She says: “The activities and events at the pub help re-connect people with their community. A regular who lives on the same street as The Bevy says before we opened he didn’t know anyone on his road, but now he knows everyone. Others say they didn’t know anyone locally before coming to events at the pub, but now when they get on the bus people say hello to them.”

Spreading the word

The Bevy’s success in getting lots of people along to its groups and activities is due to its multi-layered approach, which includes utilising the excellent contacts of its well networked committee. Helen says: “Connections enable us to get people here. We have linked with the local community worker and social care and make connections with local community groups to let them know we exist and what we do.”

Word of what is on at The Bevy is spread through articles on social media, in community magazines and local action group newsletters, by flyering local homes, word of mouth and through events, such as family fun days or Christmas carols, which get people into the pub who see posters about what’s on and decide to come along.

Helen says another effective way of encouraging people along is by offering transport to the pub. “We would collect people in our minibus who wouldn’t be able to get here by bus, charging £3/£4 for a return journey, plus £3 or £4 for a main course and pudding and most importantly some entertainment and company,” she says.

Ability to make big impact

A photo hanging near the bar, of a characterful man wearing a Union Jack jacket, epitomises all that is wonderful about The Bevy in helping to make people feel special and cared for. Helen says: “This man died a couple of years ago. He became The Bevy ambassador. He came in here all the time and said it saved his life. People got to know and love him; he had company and wasn’t just kicking around at home.”

The Bevy proving to be ‘More Than Just a Pub’ to him, and so many others like him, through the simple actions and activities of its amazing team.

Tips to other publicans:

  • Give your staff the time to chat to people. Team members at The Bevy get to know people well and become like community champions, discovering who doesn’t look after themselves properly or needs a dinner provided. If you have people who can sit and talk with people, that is the gold nugget in helping others.
  • Ensure you and your staff listen and adopt a sensitive, subtle approach to try and find out what peoples’ situation is – it is amazing how you think you can know someone but don’t know anything at all. Be curious and ask open questions.
  • Link into existing services, as your gateways into people.
  • Don’t try and reinvent the wheel and do it all yourself. Get other peoples’ input. If you have three people around the table then suddenly you have got three times the knowledge, ideas and contacts.