“It’s been tough, but the support network from our peers is incredible!” Read how Sally Marshall and her son networked with other tenants to beat the challenges of the pandemic.

Sally’s beautiful pub, The Ship in Redmarshall near Stockton on Tees, is a traditional pub with a fantastic food offering and now offering a new circus big-top garden in the glorious north-east England countryside. It has been a tough year, but Sally – with the support of her son Toby – has found new friends and support thanks to WhatsApp.

Sally is talking to us as she celebrates the opening of her delightful new outdoor space, including brand new coverings for those coming to drink and dine at the pub.

“It is so lovely to be able to open our outdoor area, and we are lucky to have it.” Sally recollects as we discuss the variety of pubs such as those with outside space. Sally operates her pub with her son Toby as the manager and is happy to admit that the support of her BDM, and subsequently other operators, made the last year so much more bearable. Sally told us: “My BDM had the enlightened idea to open a WhatsApp group including themself and all of the other tenants they looked after too. It has been such a simple idea, but it is a backbone of support for us and all the other tenants in the group. A central hub of chat, sharing of ideas, letting people know what you have been doing over the lockdowns and having a reason to remain optimistic.”

During the pandemic, Greene King had been in regular contact, sometimes daily, with Sally and her son. She had never felt under pressure or afraid, as she explains: “the web portal that the company created has been exceptional, such a great way to keep us up to date on Greene King’s lobbying of the government and break down what the tiers and restrictions meant. In terms that we could understand but more importantly, remember.

“Outside of financial support, I have to say from what I have heard from other companies, we have been blessed with some of the best resources, from training to stock, to legalities and most importantly support for our mental health as the world changed so dramatically around us”. Of financial support, Sally admits that not only did it save her business but kept her from suffering mental health issues herself.

Alongside other tied tenants, Sally too was offered rent concessions throughout the pandemic. As a result, she was only committed to 10% rent for the pub for most of the restrictions – never falling below 40% for the remainder of the time. “If it wasn’t for the rent concessions, we would not have survived this. Alongside the government grants and loans, it saved us.” Sally continues.

Toby and mum Sally may not have been able to open, but working in partnership with Greene King, they have managed to build an extension and refurbish the pub. Making the most of the closure, they have ensured there will be a ‘wow’ factor when they can accept drinkers and diners inside.

If a pandemic makeover wasn’t enough, Sally told us that she has also been able to stay busy, upskill and help others. “We weren’t able to launch takeaways or deliveries as we are set in a remote location, and frankly, it wouldn’t have been economical. However, the free training – including webinars that I attended - has been great for Toby and our staff to upskill. I have met new business contacts. The WhatsApp group became a sharing centre, and when we could provide anything to support other tenants, we were on it. It was a humbling time.”

So, what is the plan now for Sally and her son, Toby? With the garden going ‘bonkers’ with bookings for the outdoor space, the team are itching to get the pub open. But, whilst the outdoor space is stunning, there will be “no alternative to serving tables in our lovely pub” Sally says, and we really understand that.

How will the ongoing restrictions affect The Ship? “Not hugely, luckily. Our service standard is to greet at the door and seat our guests at their table. However, our dining space is designed to allow freedom of movement, and thanks to all the free PPE, posters and pub information, we are lucky to be able to open and still get the income we need to bounce back.”

Whilst Sally is blessed with a garden and a designated and adaptable dining space, it does not mean she is not humbled by the pandemic. “I have seen some amazing support and a network of people who are not just other tenants, but now colleagues and friends. Greene King has proved to us all why the term ‘Pub Partners’ is a mantra they operate by.”