A SERIES OF THOUGHTS AND MUSINGS FROM CASTLE ROCKIANS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS.
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.
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