COVID Case Studies #2: The Lamb Inn, Castle Donington
The coronavirus lockdown, as well as being one of the most challenging periods many of us have ever experienced, has shone a light on those who go the extra mile for their communities. One such example is the woman behind The Lamb Inn pub in Castle Donington, self-employed landlady Sarah Bennett, Winner of a prestigious 2020 British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) Heart of the Community Award.
The Award recognises publicans who have made an extra-special effort to look out for the communities who keep their pubs alive and thriving. In other words, those landlords and landladies who go above-and-beyond the pub’s regular remit as a local watering hole by doing things like turning it into an essential grocery shop, offering a home delivery service to vulnerable community members or any number of other amazing, community-spirited activities. Sarah is just one such publican.
We caught up with her to talk about the initiatives that won her the Award and what it means for her pub to be recognised as a hub of the local community in this way.
First of all, Sarah, big congratulations on the Heart of the Community Award. How does it feel to have your efforts recognised in this way?
I am absolutely overwhelmed. I never thought for a second what we were doing at the Lamb would ever be recognised in such a way. We did this to help our village out and to keep our community alive.
You delivered multiple initiatives in 2020 to support local businesses, organisations and families in need. Tell us about your favourites.
This is a hard one to answer as I enjoyed doing all of them. My car park was empty during lockdown and I wanted businesses to be able to use it to deliver their products to us all; for them to show off their amazing skills, from cake bakes to chicken dinners.
This has had an effect on us all and to be able to help them out has been such an achievement. I never charged people to use the car park to sell their products; rather this was a way to help businesses and have faith in our community.
The Christmas presents we collected from the community were amazing. Such a fantastic response. My pub was like Santa’s grotto. I delivered to so many people, making sure they all had something for Christmas Day.
I did meat raffles on my business page. (My Lord, everyone loves a meat raffle!) From this, I was able to buy everything for Christmas hampers to give to people who needed them this Christmas, as well as all the selection boxes for our “Find the Elf” game.
You took a something-for-everyone approach to your initiatives – from encouraging local catering businesses to trade on-site to offering free-to-enter competitions to the community to win food. How important was it to you that no corner of the community felt left out?
That was paramount to my thinking. So many people struggled through this by being on furlough (I never knew what that was ‘til 2020), losing their jobs or being taken ill by this dreadful virus. As I already said, this was to keep our community together! No one was ever going to be left out – we wouldn’t have let it happen.
I’m the kind of person… my phone never stops. It’s just those little things like a five-minute chat that makes peoples’ day. It warms my heart hearing peoples voices daily and having a check-in call and that’s my role in the community.
We heard that Santa himself instructed you to visit the children of the local community at Christmas and leave gifts of reindeer food, hot chocolate cones and sweetie cones to reward them for being so good this past year. What exactly did Santa say to you and was he pleased with your efforts?
I signed an agreement with Santa that I’m not allowed to divulge such information. I can only say that he was super busy as not one child was on the naughty list from Castle Donington, so we had our work cut out to make sure all children received these gifts.
He was so impressed, we ended up doing “Find the Elf” so we could give out more treats. Maybe we should have delivered them more slowly, then we wouldn’t have had time to do the other [laughs], but it was great fun! I will definitely be doing this again in 2021.
Doing things like offering catering competitions to local people to win gourmet Friday fish suppers is a really great example of brand partnership. You support local caterers by showcasing their products and, by proxy, you gain great brand credibility for your own pub.
What would you say to other landladies and landlords looking for innovative ideas to keep their pubs at the forefront of the community’s thoughts during lockdown?
We are all in this together. Work with everyone around you. This is not a battle. We are a community and should help and support one another. Don’t be scared to pick the phone up and drop your regulars a call or send a message.
Speaking of other pubs, I also helped another pub put their marquee up to have extra room for more guests. It’s all about working together at a time like this.
When you’re so busy being a local hero, you probably don’t get asked this too often, but how are you doing through the COVID-19 challenges? Are you holding up OK?
I wouldn’t class any of the above as being a hero. This was done as a community – without them, I would never have achieved it.
I have had a few challenging times. I’m a single mum to four boys – three of them different school ages. Home schooling – aaagh! But I’m lucky that I’m a positive person. Wherever there’s a negative, there’s always a positive. It may take time to find it but it’s there.
Without the support from my community and our Marston’s family, things may have been a lot darker, but thanks to them, I smile my way through this, holding onto the day those doors open again and I can see everyone enjoying some much-needed social time.
To find out more about the wonderful work being done by Sarah Bennett at The Lamb Inn, check out their Facebook page, here. If you’re a publican or a budding publican, you could even message Sarah to ask a question or two about how she’s made her pub such a success story.
To find out more about running your own Marston’s pub, take a look at our overview, right here on this site.