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A series of thoughts and musings from Castle Rockians during the COVID-19 crisis.


BLOG SERIES


Notts, 29.05.20

A Message from Viv Anderson, MBE

Lockdown has been a testing time for me. Like other parents, I have been juggling home-working with home-schooling. Keen to keep up the children’s fitness – both my children are sports mad – we have spent a lot of time out walking and cycling, as well as honing football skills in the park and garden.

Work has thrown up even more challenges. At Playonpro we aim to give ex-sports people opportunities and work. As all of our Q&As, dinners and sporting events have been cancelled, we have concentrated on gathering our ambassadors to join us in a “keep in touch” online campaign. We have been overwhelmed by the response with over 160 of our former sports stars recording their message on how loneliness and isolation is a huge issue during lockdown for many people, and why it is so important to pick up the phone. We have shared the messages on social media and WhatsApp.

The need to communicate differently has made me pick up new IT skills. I’ve learnt to use Zoom and Houseparty. We have successfully mastered Zoom at work and have twice weekly calls between our Playonpro team who work in Dubai, Singapore and Bowdon.

As well as discussing work matters, it’s been interesting to compare the lockdown rules in the different countries. UAE and Singapore seemed to lock down harder; UAE required permits to leave the house.

The kids are massively into TikTok but they haven’t persuaded me to join them yet. I have done various online challenges for charity, including a keepy-uppy for Teesside Hospice and I’m about to take part in a Manchester United/Manchester City competition to raise funds for EatWell MCR, the Manchester charity feeding vulnerable Mancunians and NHS workers.

We are now talking to our partners and sponsors  to find ways to work together to promote businesses as they come out of lockdown and function in the new-normal we will all need to adjust to.

I am so looking forward to being able to go to a pub and drink a proper pint of lager with friends. We’re hoping this will be possible in July, so not much longer!

Cheers!

Viv Anderson MBE


22.05.20 – Notts, UK

7041  Juxtaposition and Entomology

By Shereen Hutchinson

It’s Friday 21st of February.

It’s a cold day, but it’s not raining. It’s a wedding day. Normalcy runs through the air, with a flurry of suppliers arriving throughout the day. They’re like a colony of ants, all scurrying for one common goal. The centrepieces are reminiscent of something out of the Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom. The florist is in keeping with the theme; merry, whimsical, elegant.

“Oh no, I just do this for the love, duck! I’m a full-time teacher by trade!”

I’m focused, but also distracted with anticipation. A dragonfly, seeing its iridescent body reflected in the calm water. This contrast of feeling is something I’ll become accustomed to in the coming months.

Today is someone’s wedding day, but it’s also the day I’m offered the job as the General Manager of The Embankment.

 

It’s Monday 16th of March.

The blossom has been out for a while now. The daffodils are on sale for a quid a bunch and our sun is delivering glimmers of hope after a long, long winter.

Despite the light, there’s a faint darkness creeping into our peripherals. There are termites burrowing in.

“And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.’’

You what, Boris?!

 

It’s Friday 20th of March.

It’s been a peculiar week. The days are filled with conspiracy theories, whines and groans. The nights are different. The nights flow with a hazy buzz. It sounds like a small gathering of moths, marching towards that flickering glow in the window.

The daily 5pm ritual is important to us now.

“Did he just say…?”

“He did.”

“What?! Now?!”

The moths come bounding in, there’s bloody loads of them now. It’s a huge army. Their wings are fluttering desperately.

They’re elated! They’ve made it while the light is still on!

They don’t know when it’ll be turned back on again.

 

It’s Friday 22nd of April.

I’m thinking about the florist, graceful like a butterfly. Her rainbow colours will be warming hearts.

I’m thinking about timing. The half-built hive, the honey-bees eager to return.

I’m thinking about calibrating my ideas. Metamorphosis.

I’m thinking about the moths. I miss the moths! All of them.

I’m thinking about turning that light back on.


15.05.20 – Notts UK

House Roast

This week’s blog post comes from our friends at Stewarts Coffees (who provide the delicious coffee we serve in our pubs). 

Hello Castle Rock family! Greetings from the roastery. Friday, a time we’d usually be rushing round filling bags and boxes to stock up venues for a busy weekend, the coffee van screeching in an out of the market to pick up for more deliveries, some quality banter at the packing desk in anticipation of a couple of days enjoying the sunshine, then some frantic tidying and sweeping up of rogue coffee beans before a much-anticipated pint.

I say usually…! Bit different now though, ain’t it? We’ve gone from “wtf” to “wfh”, and we’re all glued to the news for the green light to freedom!

Like the rest of your blogs on your website though, we’re not at home to “doom-and-gloom”. We’ve got plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

  • We’re still open for business. Stewarts is staffed 3 days a week. We’re roasting and packing, sorting out and planning. We love our home at Sneinton Market so it’s great to be able to still come in and fire up the espresso machine.
  • We are still sending out coffee to businesses. Some customers are either selling our coffee on their own websites, some have set up market stalls, are partially for takeaway, or even asking around their friends and family to see if they can get a decent order together. We appreciate it.
  • Part of our business has increased (yes!). We’ve got a load of new web customers, ordering coffee for home. Not just Nottingham-based newbies either – we’re sending coffee all over the UK, as people have a bit more time to search online for artisan coffee.
  • This year started out great for us. Coffee sales well up, some great new customers in the pipeline, some awesome events in the calendar, plans to extend the Stewarts/Blend portfolio within the city. All these things will still happen, in one form or another!

Want some more positives? The sun’s out more often now so you can justify cracking open that first beer a little earlier than usual!

So, make sure you live in those tatty shorts whilst you can. Keep clapping key-workers. Say hello to the postie. Make bread, paint stuff, drink great beer…and great coffee!

Speaking of which, you know we’re missing the Castle Rock crew, so we’d love you to make the most of “castlerockcoffee” – a 20% discount code on coffee ordered via our website: www.stewartscoffees.co.uk.

Now might be the time to try to try some different coffees. Current faves of ours are some stunning African coffees from Uganda and Ethiopia. Put the code in at checkout. Spread the good word amongst your gang. We’ll post out the coffee, or you can pick up from the roaster (don’t worry, we’ll shout nicely at you from a distance!).

Stay safe, stay positive…and see you at the bar soon!

The Stewarts of Trent Bridge team


07.05.20 – Notts, UK

HOME-TIME

BY JESSICA COLLINS.

So, it’s been over a month now of being at home, only going out for essentials and no pubs.

Before the health crisis had us all in lockdown, I would sometimes find myself wishing I could press pause on everything and just have some time to do things there wasn’t time to devote myself to in everyday life: painting, skating, reading. Small things like cooking from scratch, spring cleaning and doing a ‘big shop’, etc.

In fairy tales and folklore, a granted wish always comes at a price – with some horrible consequence – and so too in this case.

Like a lot of others, at first I struggled with the new order of things. I felt guilty that I had all this free time (the cost of which was too much) and frankly, I was no longer interested in it.

Thankfully this slump didn’t last too long. Worries about my job and flat were eased by my managers that were always only the other side of a video call. Our Castle Rock Family page on Facebook didn’t just provide information and support but kept me laughing, too.

I am still getting used to this weird new trade-off: free time for freedom. BUT I have picked up a few tips for staying positive over the last month and just in case they can help anyone else, I’ll share them here.

TIP #1 – Do what you can when you can.
Yes, it would be wonderful if by the time we were back at work I had managed to improve my fitness, skills, number of books read, paintings painted and so on.
But this isn’t a test.
It’s okay to just get through it – for me that means some days will be spent watching Bob’s Burgers in bed, while on others I’ll manage to ring everyone in my family, work out in the lounge, go to Asda, return looking like a pack mule, make tea AND a Victoria sponge for afters.
Both are fine.

TIP #2 – Get creative.
If you read Our Favourite Things blog last Sunday, you’ll have seen we mentioned Grayson Perry’s Art Club. Something Grayson Perry said really struck a chord with me. Basically, don’t put yourself under any pressure just relax, explore and experiment. See what happens! This also applies in the kitchen and is really fun.

  

 

TIP #3 – Embrace TV & film.
I was lucky enough to be amongst the few people that hadn’t seen Stranger Things yet. I already want to watch it again. The Great British Sewing Bee is back on and I love it.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Gifted and Peanut Butter Falcon are three amazing films to make you feel warm and fuzzy (but also cry. Totally worth it).

And that’s it really!

Take it easy. Snuggle up with a homecooked meal/ pencil and pad/ good book/ film. If you have a child, pet, housemate or significant other then scooch along.

One thing’s for sure: we’ve got time. Don’t worry too much about doing everything today. 🙂


28.04.20 – Lincoln, UK

Let’s Go to the Eagle

By Tracy Harris.

We’re holding up well here at the Golden Eagle.

We have space to wander and lots of work underway. We started in the cellar (scrubbing and painting) and worked our way up. The shed has been raided and pots of paint put to good use. I feel a little like the Queen…all I can smell is fresh paint and bleach!

Mostly, I’m missing my team. We are a small and close-knit group, very much like the pub really. It’s incredibly “local” and sometimes more like a community centre, with the added bonus of beer. I miss very much the interaction with our customers and have tried to maintain strong threads of connectivity through social media.

Tyla and I are posting regularly to keep the community feel going, along with ensuring our more vulnerable customers are looked after. We are trying to help wherever we can, with shopping trips and prescription collections.

A postcard sent to the Golden Eagle by one of their regulars

Harvey, our pub dog, has also been very active on his page in an attempt to put as smile on his followers’ faces with some lovely comments posted to him.

I’m missing the smell of ale, the stir caused when something looked forward to makes its appearance on the bar, and the conversations that ensue from those first few tastes. I am most looking forward to being able to get our beer festival underway. It is one of my favorite times of the year and will be much needed this time, whenever that may be!

We have much to be thankful for, though. We have Castle Rock by our side and loyal customers who cannot wait for us to open our doors again (so long as we haven’t painted them shut)! There will be such a party when we fire up the handpulls again and I cannot wait to be able to hug people in welcome.


28.04.20 – Loughborough, UK


Artwork by Paul Caper Dexter in the Swan in the Rushes 

In Answer to your Questions…

By Ellaine Manson.

As we head into another week of the surreal experience we seem to be finding ourselves in, I have been reflecting over what is important to me in my life , what I miss and what I am looking forward to doing most as soon as this bizarre set of circumstances is over.

I am not surprised to discover I miss my staff and customers, the Swan is a very different old girl without her usual eclectic mix of personalities inhabiting its rooms. I soon got bored of playing Hide and Seek with no staff and customers to hide from, although I have discovered hidden corners of this building I didn’t know existed.

I am however fortunate that we live in a modern society and I can keep in regular contact electronically with a lot of the customers. This is really cheering me (and hopefully them) up.

Questions I am asked most often, answered:

How are you doing?

I am fine. Bored and need motivation to get on with some DIY, but otherwise healthy.

How are Edith as the rest of the staff ?

They are all grand, Edith has been building bikes – a new skill to add to her CV.

Are you still being paid?

Yes don’t worry we are and all of the staff have been furloughed now so, like it or lump it, we will all be back.

What plans have you got moving forwards?

I have a million as usual! I am speaking regularly to entertainers of all sorts and as soon as I can get dates booked in we are going to have an amazing social calendar. Although Edith doesn’t think we need a snow machine or a bucking Broncho, I usually get my own way in the end. I think we both agree another drag night is on the cards.

How are ….. and …… ?

I won’t give out any customer info unless they give me permission to. Suffice to say that everyone I have spoken to is well and missing each other desperately.

 

Hopefully this will be over and we will all be back together soon ….. and playing with my snow machine.

Elaine x


 

21.04.20 – Notts, UK

There was nothing to do, there is everything to do.

By Colin Wilde.

I started writing this piece over Easter Weekend and then lost my flow, so I apologise for the lumpiness in the prose that follows as I try to pull my thoughts together.

Throughout the CV-19 situation, I have found myself trying to collect and process my thoughts while surrounded by a myriad of information and questions, coming in from all directions. Each seems to unfold to evoke further thoughts and emotions, while many of the latter are my own and have often proved unanswerable at this stage.

It is very difficult to put into words. My thoughts and ideas seem to change like the tides; each is different with the ebb and flow. So, what better time for a blog?!

I couldn’t help but think what opening line that Charles Dickens would use for this blog piece in times such as these so I will use The Tale of Two Cities as my inspiration.   Perhaps it would probably go something like this:

It was the end of the World that we lived in, it is the beginning of the World in which we will now live.  There was nothing to do, there is everything to do. The Castle Rock family is apart, the Castle Rock family is together.

It’s Easter weekend now and the sun is blazing down as I sit on a deck chair in Alice’s Allotment Garden (find it on Facebook). It’s usually a quiet place to listen to bird song, reflect on the previous week, and give some thought to what will unfold in the next. The chimes of the Little John bell ring clearly over the city of Nottingham every fifteen minutes. When I’m not on digging duty, this is a good place to think.

On a Saturday like this, I would normally feel a mixture of pride, privilege and thankfulness. A sunny Easter Saturday means that we are through the doldrums of the perennial dark winter months; the warmer days and lighter nights would mean our pubs are finally come into blossom. This would be the busiest day of the year so far.

But today isn’t today.

I do, however, still feel pride, privilege and thankfulness.

The pride comes from knowing how much hard work goes on behind the scenes, to give us the opportunity to do what we do best. Day in and day out, our customers give us the opportunity to be their hosts, to be the keepers of their safe spaces. I feel pride, too, in knowing that my colleagues are still trying to provide that respite for their customers, putting colour into these strange new routines and ways of life.

The privilege and thankfulness come from knowing that you, our customers, have many options in how to spend your time and money. Patronage is something we never ever take for granted, and even in its absence, I am thankful.

Sitting in the sunshine, relaxing by the canal, soaking up the pre-match nerves with a pre-match pint, taking a break from the hullabaloo in a quiet corner, a pint of Harvest Pale in the lunchtime sunshine…how we all live for today.

But today isn’t today.

Today is a day of mixed emotions. I find comfort in knowing that, for once, the hardworking Castle Rockians finally have a day of rest. Knowing that we are all helping keep people safe brings solace and centres my thoughts. It is tinged with sadness, remembering that those moments of happiness we could have enjoyed together are ones that we will never get back, and that some will not have the chance to make happy moments again. Many people will not see their loved ones again, and my heart goes out to them.

As a business, there was no real way to plan for something like this. New and unanticipated problems unfolded faster than we could solve the previous ones, and no doubt there will be many more difficulties for us to face. We have spent lots of unseen hours trying to weather out this storm.  What makes me most hopeful is that our inner core values and strengths – ones that we have never been able to capture in words – have shone brightly throughout all of this.

These are the things that have always existed, even if we didn’t know it. These are the things that have shown who we really are and what we care for, and which demonstrate our real purpose. We can ensure our future is uplifted by the knowledge that we did the right things, here and now. And we can work to always remember the lessons we are learning during this.

I am both proud, privileged and thankful to be part of the Castle Rock family. I am proud of what we did yesterday, and proud of what we are doing today to look after each other and our customers.  If we can all stay safe, then I am excited for the future that we’ll be able to share together.

Perhaps the worst has happened, but perhaps the best is yet to come.

 

 


15.04.20 – Lincolnshire Wolds, UK

TWO THIRDS FULL
By Lewis Townsend

So we’re a little late posting this one but here’s Lewis, our head of marketing, in our first vlog of the series!

Lewis started lockdown a tad earlier than the rest of us, self isolating for 14 days. Follow him on his first trip ‘outside’ on a forage for bracken (classic Lewis!) as he muses out loud on the current covid-19 crisis and what it has taught him so far.

 

If you’re having trouble watching the video, please follow this link to the YouTube video: 1 April 2020 – By Lewis Townsend


10.04.20 – Notts, UK

LIFE OF A PUBLICAN (WITHOUT A PUB BUT WITH A YOUNG CHILD)

By Tom Eccles

 

In a way, everything has changed but nothing has changed.

I’ve still got a routine despite the pub not being open. My son wouldn’t allow me not to.

I’m still up early, no sleeping all day for me. Once he’s up, we go downstairs and change his nappy. Get breakfast sorted while my girlfriend has a lie in. Then we go straight outside into the garden. We’ve tried to spend as much time as possible in the garden, as there will be many times when its less feasible.

It’s been a nice but challenging experience spending time together as a family. It’s not something we’ve done for this period of time since I was on paternity leave. My girlfriend and I generally work opposite shifts to each other so that we can look after our son. We’re doing things together like eating meals and watching TV series’. It’s strange falling into a pattern that is deemed normal but not normal for me.

I’ve been at the pub for such a long time that a lot of the customers are my friends. Despite not seeing them like we are used to, I’m still in touch with them. I’ve been in touch with one of the characters every day. The betting shops are shut, so I’ve been putting his bets on online for him. Somehow, he’s still found things to bet on despite sport being shut down across the world! We started with horse racing in Ireland but that finished so we’ve covered Hong Kong, South Africa and USA so far (with limited success).

It’s amazing to see what some customers have done. From some of our regulars going around the pub collecting money for the staff on the night we closed, to messages from customers wishing us well and seeing if there is any way they can support the pub and us as individuals while we’re shut, to groups that come in on specific nights together setting up video chat groups so they can try to keep a level of ordinariness through this far from ordinary time that we are living in.

From a personal point of view, I miss the pub. I miss my colleagues, I miss the customers, and of course I miss the beer and breweries that we deal with. But the break has been good for me. The job as a manager is an all-encompassing life that can be 24/7, and often means putting others before yourself. It’s been nice to recharge the batteries a little bit and have some time to reflect.

I think we’ll all come back with renewed vigour and feeling stronger than ever.


 

06.04.20 – Notts, UK

MY BREAD AND B[U]TTER

by Lee Pouncey

 

On the 17th of March this year I turned 39 years of age. Three days later I had to close my pub, the Bread and Bitter, due to coronavirus.

I’ve worked in pubs on and off since I was 17, with various random other jobs in between. I’m a qualified AMF bowling lane technician, I was the health and wellbeing co-ordinator in a drug and alcohol rehab, I taught English and music in America, and did a three-day hike in the Appalachian Mountains from New Jersey to Pennsylvania with 19 kids!

I’ve worked in some pubs that I hated and some that I loved. It was both, though, that led me on my journey to becoming a pub manager – they all allowed me to figure out why I liked some pubs and not others. I decided that I wanted to manage pubs as a career but at the time it seemed like there were only huge chain pubs and very small independent ones. I thought my options were limited in Nottingham, so I moved to Manchester in 2007. I got offered my first pub in 2009 in North Manchester and another in 2014 before returning to Notts in 2015.

I’d been away from Nottingham for so long that a lot had changed. I’d always loved the Canalhouse as a pub and went in there one evening and saw how good it looked. I then stumbled across the Embankment, the Poppy and Pint and, finally, the Bread and Bitter, none of which had existed when I left Notts.

When I applied to work for Castle Rock in late 2016, there weren’t any managerial vacancies, but the company took me on anyway due to my experience in Manchester. They asked me to help out around the estate until a pub became available, and my love for Castle Rock really grew. Not just for the company but for what each and every pub does, and how it operates in its community. There was a world of difference between the pubs I managed in Manchester and Castle Rock pubs and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I took over as general manager of the Bread and Bitter in August 2017, however, it wasn’t until closing the doors on 20th of March 2020 that I have been able to deeply understand what the Bread means to others.

I’m borrowing a line from our brewer Dan Gilliland here but it’s so true: “Beer is the excuse, not the reason” to go to the pub. The Bread isn’t just a pub, it a social hub. It’s a melting pot of ideas, of experiences, of people from all walks of life who come here to relax, to vent, to socialise and to be together. It’s like your mate’s house whose door is unlocked where you can come round and feel welcomed regardless of the day you’ve had. I know a lot of people who come here and yet they don’t all know each other. They come at different times, for different experiences, but still always come back.

The baby group kicks the week off on Monday mornings and there’s not a drop of alcohol sold (I know right?) but everyone comes for a coffee and a chat and each week the youngest person to come into the pub walks (well, is pushed in a pram) through the door. We have the quiz, band night, vinyl night, history talks, the velo club etc. all attended by people because that’s why they’re here…not for beer, but for the social interaction.

This lockdown has made me realise all the reasons why I love working in pubs but also how the Bread is much, much more than just a pub. It’s a safe space, it’s a support network, it’s a place of anonymity but also inclusion. It’s a vestige of what a real pub should be…a place where you can walk in as a stranger or regular but feel welcomed and included. This is the same for the people that work here, as well as the people that drink here.

I am so looking forward to opening our doors again and welcoming everyone in, hearing everyone’s stories, making people smile, people making me smile, and for my pub to be a place where people can come to interact with others and do much, much more than just order a drink.

 


31.03.2020 – Newark, UK

THOUGHTS ON PAUSE

by Rosie Downing

 

I miss…

Grinding the coffee before we open. Taking a few minutes of calm before the day begins, with a slice of cornflake tart from the bakery over the road. Writing the list of things to be achieved with my team. All the familiar faces that visit us throughout the day. Recommending beers to people who have trusted my choices for years, especially when I get it right. Hosting the quiz and raising money for local charities. Laughing – really laughing – with the customers we truly consider friends. Clearing clean plates from happy faces who have enjoyed a meal with their families. The beer at the end of the night when we are tired and relieved to have achieved the day’s goals. Wishing I could go home.

I appreciate…

The community effort we are seeing to keep our people safe. My health. My team, who have adapted and adjusted their daily goals to simply staying in touch and keeping each other smiling. My husband, whose pub is also closed, who understands. The UK brewing community, who are taking extraordinary leaps to keep surviving and thriving during this uncertain time. Castle Rock Brewery, made up of individuals who are providing daily reassurance for us all.

I look forward to…

The first day back. The party we are already planning to throw. Listening to live music again – in the flesh. A pub crawl with my husband. Group hugs. Being busy. Days out. Brunch with friends at a local café. Hand-drawn cask ale – serving it and drinking it. Looking back on this one day and being amazed at what we overcame.

 


25.03.20 – Notts, UK

4 DAYS AND COUNTING

by Liv Auckland

 

It’s Wednesday 25th. The pubs have been closed for 4 days and counting, and the country has been lockdown for less than 48 hours. Spring sunshine is warming my legs, my youngest [cat] is snoozing on the floor beside me, the daffodils have bloomed, and there’s too much tea in my belly.

Life feels both surreal and completely normal.

I’m at an old writing desk that we found in a Castle Rock pub, left behind by the previous owners. At the time of discovery, it was almost hidden among dust sheets and cups of builder’s tea. Within a few hours, the desk had found a new home and was being lovingly spruced. It’s a happy and familiar spot, despite being slightly too low and cramped.

I’ve already had a video chat with my frolleagues this morning. Was I wearing pyjama bottoms still? Sure. Do I really need to put jeans on to feel like I’m seizing the day? I’m not convinced. It occurs to me now that they could have been starkers from the waist down, for all I know. I miss crying with laughter with them.

There’s a racket going on nearby. At the moment, my background noise is the screeches and squeals of the neighbour’s kids, instead of the clanking and clinking of the brewery. Usually, at least once a day, there is an almighty bang and the floor shakes beneath my feet. The kids, at least, don’t seem to be causing such quakes.

Each day, I have dropped my partner at the Canalhouse – the pub we met in and the pub he now manages. Normal. Yet, of course, the pub isn’t open. He’s been there to clean lines, sort stock, make sure the pub is in tip top shape for whenever we get to re-open. It’s strange to think of him there, on his own, doing the most thorough “clean down” of his career. Now though, after the lockdown, we’re both at home. I don’t think he knows what to do.

Castle Rock is in the 365-day 24-hour business. As the doors to the pubs are locked up tight, the brewery team is waking up ready for a new day. As the gates to the brewery close, bar staff arrive at their respective pubs for the late shift. Somewhere in between, the rest of us come and go. But collectively, we don’t stop.

The thing is, having a proper break could do us all some good. As individuals, some of us haven’t had a chance to decompress for years. Heck, many have been leading this lifestyle for decades. Maybe we can view this as the opportunity we’ve never had before; a chance to really rest and recuperate. (I, for one, have grand ideas of yoga and meditation in the garden each morning.) However hard it is, painful it is, for some of us to not work, maybe this is how we create the future we want. Not just as individuals, but as a business, too.

The last few weeks have brought the Castle Rock family together in a way I’ve never seen before. It could just be the isolation starting to kick in, but I’m hopeful about what’s on the horizon for us.

Be brave.

Lx

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