Nicky shares insights on the work and achievements of the Community Services Fund, including tips to publicans looking to diversify their pub’s services
Getting involved with PiTH: Our chief executive John Longden heard I had a background in administration, having worked in independent schools for over 20 years, and after retiring I decided I needed a new challenge and joined Pub is The Hub in 2017.
I oversee the Community Services Fund from project enquiries to payment of project grants. All projects have to be viable and approved collectively. I work closely with all advisors to ensure projects run smoothly and record information relating to projects so we can measure their performance, such as their social value Pub is The Hub: New research highlights the social value publicans and pubs create by providing local services.
The range of different diversification projects and their success stories are the best things about my job. Being part of the PiTH family is also good fun. I was responsible for trying to obtain a set of racing roosters as a 70th birthday gift for HRH The Prince of Wales, who initiated the creation of Pub is The Hub in 2001. HRH had played the game during a visit to The New Inn at Llanddewi Brefi and our chief executive thought it would be fun to send him some for his birthday. Checking the roosters worked down the office corridor created a few laughs.
My grandmother ran a small village store, in a remote Shropshire village, so I have always been aware of how harmful loneliness can be to peoples’ wellbeing. I like to think that PiTH helps reduce isolation by supporting the provision of services in rural areas and by encouraging publicans to help create local connections and friendships.
I gain great satisfaction from knowing that PiTH’s Community Services Fund is helping provide benefits to thousands of people all over the UK and we are privileged to deal with some amazing publicans as small independent businesses, many of whom are real characters.
How has Pub is The Hub adapted to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, including lockdowns, to continue to support projects?
A key achievement is how well everyone in the Pub is The Hub team adapted to the constraints of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
We adapted our procedures, including advisors doing more fact finding and checks online. Whilst working at home our advisors kept in contact with publicans and explored all new enquiries. Liaising with publicans over the phone demonstrated the value of their expertise as they were still able to make informed decisions about pubs, publicans and their plans without the usual visits to pubs.
Fifty projects were completed through our Community Services Fund during the Covid-19 lockdowns, which was astounding. Publicans continued to step up to the mark as they realised people in their local area were struggling. Village stores and food delivery and takeaway services became the most popular initiatives.
Have the number and type of enquiries you receive from publicans changed since the start of the pandemic?
In 2019 our enquiries were for a diverse range of projects. In 2020 enquiries became more food-related with village stores, cafes, market gardens and farm shops the most common – this was an understandable bias as publicans could see their locals were struggling to obtain essential supplies and wanted to help support them.
We supported 28 diversification projects during the first year of the pandemic in 2020, which was fantastic.
During 2021 the food-related focus of enquiries remained the same with nearly half of all project enquiries for village stores or takeaway food related. We also saw lots of requests for support in making temporary facilities, trialled during the pandemic, into a permanent local service.
It was great to see a village store reopen last year at The New Harp in Hoarwithy, near Hereford, Herefordshire publican reopens village store as a lifeline to local residents after it was destroyed by flooding (pubisthehub.org.uk), as the publican had a really difficult time having been flooded out in Storm Dennis and had just got back on their feet when Covid-19 hit. The shop provides such an essential local service which had been greatly missed by residents while closed.
Any unusual project requests to the Community Services Fund?
Chief executive John’s first ever request was for a community jacuzzi and bookies, which was declined!
What advice would you give publicans thinking about diversifying their pub’s services?
Be open minded and don’t assume you know what your village wants. Always consult your locals as to the type of project they would support. Residents need to be committed to a venture to ensure they feel the loyalty to support the pub long term. The parish council and local authority needs to be onboard too as they can help in many ways.
What are some of the other benefits to publicans of working with Pub is The Hub on Community Services Fund projects?
I have always maintained that the free advice and expertise of our 12 advisors is the biggest benefit of Pub is The Hub’s Community Services Fund. Between them they have many years of industry knowledge and are able to give valuable insights and advice to both experienced publicans and new entrants. They are trusted and respected because of this independent experience.
Free BII membership for a year, which is offered to all publicans at PiTH project pubs, is also very popular for business support.
The PR support that all new project pubs are given is also a huge benefit, as many publicans find this area difficult to navigate and often lack the appropriate contacts.
What happens after a publican makes an enquiry about a project to help diversify their pub’s services to help support people in their local area?
It is a very thorough process based on the professional experience of our team.
Initially I make contact with the publican to get more information and discuss further what is being planned. I then pass the information on to the relevant regional advisor. We have 12 expert regional advisors who advise publicans on projects depending on which county the pub is based in.
The advisor then makes contact with the publican to organise a visit to discuss their project plans and advise accordingly. Following this visit the advisor either decides against or in favour of the proposal. If positive an application is prepared by the advisor and submitted.
The formal application is then reviewed by myself to ensure the items being requested comply with PiTH guidance, such as not asking to cover legal, architect or associated building fees, as we don’t cover these but more the kitting out of projects. Once I and the regional advisor are happy with the application it is passed to the Pub is The Hub board for approval. Following approval I send contracts to the publican to sign which our chief executive countersigns and at this stage the project is classed as in progress.
The regional advisor then monitors progress and keeps me updated on the project status while work is being undertaken.
Once the project is complete I notify our PR advisor who supports the publican with PR to help highlight the pub’s new service to local people. I also advise our researcher so they can follow-up with the publican about the impacts of the new service.