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New role for beloved Shropshire pub amid coronavirus crisis

By Mark Andrews | Bridgnorth | Dining out | Published:

The Pheasant pub meant so much to the small village of Neenton near Bridgnorth that when it closed its doors in 2006, the community rallied around to buy the building and get it reopened.

Chef Harriette Davies with the takeaways being sold at The Pheasant

Fourteen years on, the coronavirus outbreak has once more forced the pub to shut – but this time that won't stop it performing a vital role serving the neighbourhood.

Since the Government ordered all pubs to close last month, The Pheasant has taken on a new role delivering hot meals and drink to people in the locality.

The pub has been run as a community enterprise since it reopened in 2014 – the building owned by people in the village, but the pub itself run by a professional management team. Prior to the reopening, the pub received a total renovation after falling into a state of disrepair, and under the management of Sarah Cowley and Mark Harris, it has also won a string of awards for its good food and drink and warm welcome.

John Pickup, chairman of Neenton Community Society, says the reaction to the new service has been tremendous.

"People are so happy they can get delicious daily meals, and drinks to go with them, without having to brave the supermarket queues," he says.

The Pheasant at Neenton is now owned by the village community

The society has also started supplying ‘essentials boxes’ including milk, home-made bread, eggs, home-churned butter, potatoes, vegetables, salad and fruit.

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“The boxes address the same need in a different way," says John. “They minimise the number of times people need to go to the shops, and are invaluable for the most vulnerable of our local residents.”

Bobbie Jarvis, society secretary, adds: “For me, and others who live alone and are urged not to go out if at all possible, this service is an absolute lifeline.

"In these difficult times it’s wonderful we have The Pheasant as our community hub and huge credit must go to the local young people who are so quickly making these services happen for us.”

Mark Harris, John Pickup and Sarah Cowley receive the Rural Enterprise Award for the Pheasant at Neenton

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John says the pub is very much at the heart of village life, and its enforced closure has been a significant blow to the community.

"As the pub is the only public space or facility of any kind in the village, it's the hub for village life and to have it closed leaves a huge hole in people's lives," he says.

"While they're able to get food and drink still through collection or delivery, people miss the events that add the highlights to village life – the live music and the quizzes, and the very popular village suppers on a Monday evening.

"But more than anything perhaps it's the casual conversations, the banter and putting the world to rights, the ability to spontaneously celebrate and commiserate and put your own problems into the context of everyone else's that people miss most."

Takeaway meals ready to go at the Pheasant at Neenton

Bobbie adds: "Without the pub in the village, there would have been very few social networks through which people can support each other.

"We'd have been living lives in total isolation, behind closed doors, oblivious to the needs of others. Now, even though the pub is closed, it's the nerve centre for operations and the means by which people can get food, drink and daily necessities, and help when they need it."

John hopes that some compromise arrangement will soon be found, that will allow pub like The Pheasant to reopen.

Philip Dunne MP joins John Pickup behind the bar of The Pheasant at Neenton after it was reopened as a community enterprise

"The Government needs to find a way of allowing at least some pubs and restaurants to re-open in a controlled fashion that preserves social distancing," he says.

"We were already putting those kind of measures in place ourselves in the week before we were ordered to close."

As well as the food, the pub is also offering wines and beers, recently including local ales from Hop & Stagger, Wye Valley, Woods, and Hobson's breweries. John says most of this is collected in four-pint packs, although it is also delivered with food orders.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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