Open Arms

Simple changes by Hampshire publican help support locals at risk of social isolation.

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When publican Kate Hayden took over the lease of Star Pubs & Bars pub The Snow Goose in Farnborough, Hampshire, five years ago her plan was always to ensure the pub was at the centre of its local community.

Kate, who has worked in the pub sector for 33 years and runs The Snow Goose with partner Paul Warriner, says making the pub accessible to everyone is a major factor in publicans helping to tackle loneliness in their local area.

She believes her role as publican and of the pub is to connect with people in the local area and make the pub that hub that is attractive for all types of people.

Kate says the personal benefits of helping to tackle loneliness are significant and “it costs nothing.”

During this current lockdown she has launched a support phone line where anyone feeling lonely or in need of practical help can call her directly, handing out her number to pub customers she has identified as might needing some assistance.

Loneliness can affect anyone

Kate feels people who may be experiencing feelings of loneliness don’t have common characteristics and it can impact anyone from any background, not just the elderly or those with challenging financial circumstances.

She says: “They can be introvert or the bubbliest of people. Loneliness is in all places.”

Kate adds: “It is a very naive thought process to assume loneliness can’t touch the wealthy. Just because you have got money doesn’t mean you are excluded from feeling lonely. I find loneliness in the darkest, most obscure places and it is never in the most obvious places.”

Loneliness has no mercy, and it takes who it takes.

She believes too many people are slipping through the net.

Kate says: “You don’t have to have letters after your name to make you qualified to reach out to someone. It is the simplest act. It is just about reaching out and talking to people.”

What made the difference

“It has been about small behavioural changes –and educating and empowering people on things, like loneliness, that are stereotypically taboo,” Kate says.

This can be as simple as just having a chat with a customer who is on their own and making sure they are okay or giving them a call to check in on them during lockdown, she suggests.

Helping people socialise and connect

When she took on The Snow Goose it was also important to Kate that the pub layout was open and inviting to all. The aim was to offer an open feel to the pub with various size tables so people could socialise and mix. To create the right environment Kate ditched the high stools around the bar and fruit machines.

To help ensure interactions between people in the pub, none of The Snow Goose team wear name badges and Kate urges team members to ensure that customers know their name.

Kate says: “The minute you have someone’s name you have a friend.” She also advises staff to make eye contact with and spark up conversations with customers in the pub. Kate recommends: “If you see someone sitting on their own go and have a chat with them and go and say ‘hi’. My team are empowered to reach out to people, we talk about loneliness a lot and look for the signs.”

For me someone walking away with a number is what it is all about.
The biggest way to combat loneliness is to just talk to people.

Raise awareness of loneliness with staff                  

To raise awareness of the growing societal issue of loneliness regularly Kate regularly has conversations with staff about the impact loneliness can have on people. To help understand more about loneliness and how to read the signs, she and some members of her team spoke to local Samaritans organiser and the pub now use the support organisation’s beer mats on the tables.

Kate says: “If team members spot something and are engaging in a conversation with someone and it doesn’t feel right, we tell them to just pop a fresh mat down.”

The result of instilling this culture within the business has been that many of her staff automatically check up on local customers. This can be anything from a regular not turning up for her usual Sunday lunch to a quick call during lockdown.

Create a community space

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kate gave space at the pub to several groups to host their meetings, including a monthly knitting club, book club and mums’ coffee group. The groups help bring people in her local community together. “It is not necessarily about events, but about people knowing there is somewhere to come,” she explains.

The pub also has some pet pigs which local families enjoy coming to see and which give people another reason to visit the pub.

Building connections at Christmas

Since becoming publican at The Snow Goose, Kate has run a complimentary ‘Seniors Christmas Lunch’ at the pub. It has proved a major success and is now part of Heineken’s ‘Brewing Good Cheer’ campaign, to help boost community spirit in pubs.

Christmas lunch attendees have included members of local care homes, elderly neighbours to the pub and local people living alone. Kate says: “We have 125 people in for four hours and shut the rest of the pub. Everyone sits together on tables of six to eight to get people talking.”

Create opportunities for people to join in

The lunch has also proved a success as everyone that helps out are volunteers, including neighbours, friends and mums from local schools, who relish the opportunity to help and muck in with everything from peeling vegetables to waiting on tables.

Kate is proactive in ensuring that anyone attending the pub’s events, including the Christmas lunch, gets to meet the right people to help ensure they connect with others. For example, one year she received a call from a daughter who wanted to help her mother meet new people at the Christmas lunch after the death of her father.

“I had a table of ladies, who had known each other a long time but are the craziest and funniest people you have ever met. I made a space for her on that table. The best thing to come out of that day was that they had given her their phone number and they were going to catch up in the New Year,” says Kate.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic Kate couldn’t run the Christmas luncheon in 2020. But along with a team of volunteers on Christmas Eve she delivered free fish and chips to 131 senior citizen customers. The recipients were put forward by friends and family, and as well as the fish and chips, the initiative delivered some invaluable social interaction to many of these people.

Before the lockdowns Kate also hosted regular BBQs at the pub, which she says are particularly enjoyed by people living alone as they aren’t something you tend to do for one person.

Helping the helpers

Kate also highlights the positive impact on volunteers of getting involved in these projects, many of whom she says are often also suffering from loneliness.

She says: “When you speak to volunteers, they are doing it because they are equally as lonely and they need to fill their time and have a nice focus in life.”

Tips to other publicans:

  • Never make assumptions about people’s circumstances, such as if you have money you won’t suffer from feelings of loneliness.
  • Make eye contact with people when talking to them and spark up conversations with customers and locals.
  • Tackling loneliness in your local area is not necessarily about targeting events, but about making sure your pub is a place people know they can come to and feel comfortable.
  • Make your pub inviting and inclusive. It is about creating a place where everyone is made welcome and feels safe to come into, especially single people and women.