By Tara O’Connor, BBC local democracy reporter
The best thing about pubs was that they were about 10 minutes away – even if it took about two hours to get back.
That’s all changed, though, as a community boozer in Croydon has adapted to lockdown by becoming a “virtual pub”.
The Oval Tavern has been running online quizzes, live music sessions and story time for children. Occasionally, a virtual Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman walk in – and if they are short on the quiz team, they can get a statistician to make up the numbers.
This weekend [april 17-19]it is organising its first virtual festival named Cotch up Cronx with acts performing live from their own kitchen or lounge stages over two days.
In a very short time the pub has gone from a buzzing community hub in Oval Road to a virtual meeting place.
And it has been a steep learning curve, says landlady Esther Sutton who admits she is not the most ‘techy person’.
Like pubs across the country The Oval Tavern closed its doors on March 20 with no idea when they will reopen.
And this meant the team needed to be furloughed.
“That has been the hardest thing,” said Esther.
“We are a little family up here, we’re a really close team team and I desperately don’t want to lay anyone off, they are being paid as normal until the government scheme kicks in.
“The landlords have been quite reasonable so I am quite lucky.”
But she added that the scariest part is that the pub is also her home, where she lives with her grown up children.
Esther said she was not surprised that the lockdown was extended by three weeks but now her thoughts are turning to restrictions which could be in place when it is eventually lifted. To add insult to injury, the virus shares the name of a beer. Lockdown is not for good, as she might have said – it’s definitely for bad.
“Pubs and restaurants were the first to close so I think we will be the last to reopen,” she said.
“I am really fortunate because we have a large garden, if we are reopening through the summer people can sit quite far away from each other outside.
“We can do table service to not have a crowded bar as we would do normally – the whole thing is about having a rethink on how we can operate.”
But Esther said she is missing her regulars and hopes she will be able to open soon.
In the meantime she is running a takeaway food and beer service including a Sunday roast which is particularly popular while events online are run on a donation basis.
“I felt at this time a lot of people are worried about income and job security,” said the landlady.
“We’re asking for donations if you’re watching the musicians but the children’s events and pub quiz are free.
“It is important to remember we are a community pub trying to remain at the heart of the community.”
An example of this is the free food drops Esther is delivering to NHS staff daily.
A fundraising page was set up by Croydon mum Sarah Milne to pay for the ingredients.
And with the help of a loaned cargo trike from Peddle My Wheels, Esther delivers 30-40 home made meals to Croydon University Hospital a day.
Full details of this weekend’s festival run with Big South productions can be found here: www.cotchupcronx.live.
And information about events run by the pub can be found on The Oval Tavern, Croydon Facebook page.
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