Virtual Pub Set Up During Quarantine Has To Hire Staff To Cope With 14,500 Customers
An ex-landlady opened up a virtual pub for local people staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic – now, it’s the biggest venue she’s ever run.
Introducing The Virtual Pub, a Facebook group with more than 14,500 customers who regularly log on to enjoy live music, quizzes, open mics and comedy nights.
Jo Bowtell, who ran The Noel Arms in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, for a number of years, opened the social media pub as a way to bring members of the community together. Instead, she ended up reeling in folks from as far as Australia, the US, Canada, Spain and Italy.
The 40-year-old, from Spondon, Derby, has been so inundated with patrons looking for entertainment she’s had to enlist a roster of 10 staff members to ensure the page keeps ticking over – such as moderators,who vet people wanting to join the page (essentially bouncers), organisers and a pal in Australia who keeps watch while Jo sleeps.
The mum-of-two explained:
It has completely blown up. We’ve got 3,000 members just waiting for approval – it’s like there’s a queue at the door to get in. It’s the biggest pub I’ve ever ran and I can’t believe how popular it has become… I’ve got people in Hawaii tuning in to watch a DJ set and people stranded in Italy watching comedy nights with their mum in Britain.
It’s really nice to be able to bring people together in these difficult times in the most British way possible. It is pretty much like going to a pub but doing it from your living room or back garden. It’s keeping communities entertained and friends and family connected together.
While she says it’s ‘like running an actual pub without the hassle of serving the booze’, she’s encouraging people to drink responsibly, and they even have coffee mornings.
As a landlady you tend to be a pillar of the community, who people turn to in times of need. You’re there for the good, the bad and the ugly. You almost have a moral obligation – the pub is an extension of the home for most people, but now their homes are the extension of the pub.
There are key workers getting in from work at odd hours and it is a way to connect with people. We keep it light-hearted and there’s a lot of banter but I don’t tolerate bad language or derogatory comments. I’m a bit of an old school landlady like that.
Don’t just take Jo’s word for it; the customers are absolutely loving The Virtual Pub. Dawn Richardson, 37, said: ‘It is keeping me entertained all day. I just love it. It has brought people together.’ Ray Callcut, 60, added: ‘It’s great. I can speak to my mum and then go back in the pub. It’s almost like a platform for new talent so when we get out of this, hopefully pubs will be busy.’
One such performer is Tara Simms, who played a two-hour set through Facebook Live last week. She called it ‘a place to escape’, saying it’s ‘great because you watch people coming online and having banter while playing’.
It’s no surprise Jo’s pub is considered to be a haven. ‘In such bleak times, it is important to find a positive and with all the bad news going around I think it really puts a smile on people’s faces,’ she added.
If you’d like to join The Virtual Pub, click here (then pour yourself a pint).
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