Well it certainly has not been the year I expected! To be honest I don’t think anyone expected the past 12 months though.
When I joined the Angel in August of 2019 it had really just begun to get some positive recognition. I myself have worked in the Richmond and Kew area for a number of years so was well aware of its previous reputation.
Nick and I also knew each other well from his time managing the Coach and Horses in Kew where I worked under him as the head chef. We regularly kept in contact and on this particular Sunday Nick asked if I wanted to join him in participating in ‘Hymns & Pimms’. A collaborative celebration with the local church on the year of their 800th birthday!
I took Nick up on his offer, took part in giving out free Pimms on what was a beautiful summers afternoon, met Liam and the rest is really history – I started at The Angel the following week.
The objective was simple. Assist Nick and Liam in driving the pub forward as a venue for community and family.
By January of 2020 Liam had made it clear of his intention to move on and in fairness he had always been honest long before January in that he didn’t want to stay in hospitality long term. I think it was then a natural progression for me to step up and fulfil his role. By now I knew the pub well, the way it operated and what the patrons expected from us as a team and a business.
In February I took over and initially with great success. The foundations of a good pub had been laid, The 6 Nations were in full flow and we found ourselves breaking records. First came the record take in one day, then record takings week on week. The pub was full or close to full pretty much every day. I now had the chance to put my stamp on things and drive this pub further forward… Or so I thought.
The 20th of March arrived and what a baptism of fire that came to be. All hospitality to close. I, like almost everyone else found myself in unchartered waters. Both personally and professionally. Pubs were not even closed during the war and by my own admission, I really had no idea what lockdown meant or what the pandemic would turn out to be. The pandemic has (as everyone knows) been a massive blow to business. This was really meant to be our year so of course as a team and as individuals its been incredibly tough. Our mentality however was not that of despair but of purpose. We wanted to do our bit for the community and the fight against Coronavirus.
Spending the first lockdown feeding the most vulnerable of the community was a real mix of emotions for me and I think for all of us. We experienced some real characters, many of whom were good fun and a real laugh. Equally many of our guests suffered with a range of mental health issues. This was then very much amplified by the lockdown and closure of services they heavily depend upon. In these moments you then experience that conflict of emotions.
It can be frustrating, heart-breaking and sometimes a feeling of guilt all in one moment. As you can imagine people can be difficult to deal with, yet whilst many of these individuals may be difficult to deal with, you can see many of them are in a considerable amount of pain and sometimes you wish you could do more.
I often found myself having to take a step back and just remember that we were doing everything we could. Through our network of agencies and charities built up through our previous community work, we were able to offer as much support as we could. This was anything at all. Mental health support, financial support and housing arrangements. For us as an operation; we were not just providing a hot meal. It ranged from sleeping bags to toiletries. We really did everything we could to help. Looking back now, I feel silly feeling guilty or emotional, however I don’t think anyone could experience what we did and not feel those emotions. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t affect you.
The biggest challenge for me since taking over in February has been operating since the first lockdown. The so called ‘Super Saturday’ on July 4th…
Much of the pubs equipment had been turned of for a considerable period of time. The building itself needed to be transformed from a make shift storage unit from our community efforts back to a pub with tables and chairs. That was no easy task. As a manager I then had to get my head round the new restrictions. What was law and what was guidance. Implementing social distancing and then finding the best way to relay this to staff and customers. This was never going to be the normal reopening I had anticipated when we first went into lockdown.
The Difficulty has continued ever since. I fully support and believe in the restrictions hospitality has had imposed on it. If it saves lives then of course I do. It doesn’t make them any easier though when they change so frequently. As a manager of a pub, it becomes a balancing act of maintaining morale, adhering to the rules and keeping business operations running as smoothly as possible.
Lockdown 2 came as expected and three weeks later tier 4 and yet another closure. A planned busy Christmas schedule would now be cancelled and with that the opportunity to really get going halted yet again. So of course its been frustrating but it is the reality we all are living through at the moment.
For me; my first year of management has not been about taking the pub to the next level as I had expected. In fact its hardly been about business at all.
Its been about being able to adapt and overcome the obstacles put in front of myself and my team. Keeping staff motivated and morale high whilst also maintaining the safety of everyone in and around the pub.
In all honesty my first year in management has been about people. Doing my bit to communicate well with everyone and being creative to keep customers coming in whilst operating within the law.
I didn’t expect it but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the challenge. Like everyone I am very much ready for some normality but until then. I am enjoying my commitments to helping support our communities most vulnerable. As and when the time comes, I look forward to taking the pub to the next level and a very prosperous future post-Covid19. Until then, I hope everyone is staying home and keeping safe!
Hannah Lawson: General Manager, Angel & Crown, Richmond.