From cider to apples and back again: The Baldock pub that never sleeps
- Credit: Archant
On March 20, with coronavirus on the march and Prime Minister Boris Johnson battening down the hatches, pubs and restaurants across the country pulled down the shutters and went into hibernation. That is, apart from one very special pub in Baldock.
The Orange Tree pub, on Norton Road, made national news during lockdown, reinventing itself as a pop-up supermarket and off-license for elderly residents, NHS key workers, and members of the public – raising over £20,000 for local musicians in the process.
Pub licensee and landlord Rob Scahill said the support he received from the community has been “utterly incredible,” and has hailed his remarkable team of volunteers for making the impossible possible.
“On the morning of Saturday March 21, with my natural stubbornness, I decided to stay open,” Rob said. “Off-licenses had been designated as essential businesses, and as I had an off-sales license, I thought, what the heck – I was going to stay open and beg forgiveness later if I got it wrong.”
While Rob was open for a few hours that first Saturday, one of his customers asked if he had any vegetables that he could use up – and from there came the germ of an idea.
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“We had all the stock for our usual Sunday roasts, so I let him have some, and ended up giving the rest away,” Rob said. “I was asked if I could get more, so I contacted Fieldgate Nurseries who have supplied our fresh fruit and veg for years, and they were happy to supply whatever they could. I also called EFG Foodservice and asked if they could get tinned and packet stuff like pasta and yeast.”
As supply chains quickly fell into place, Rob said that it “felt immoral” to be making any money from his new greengrocers, and came up with the idea to raise money for a cause close to his heart.
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“It occurred to me we wouldn’t be able to have any musicians playing in the pub during lockdown, or indeed anywhere – and I knew many of those guys would be suffering badly without income.
“I called G La Roche – from Balstock Music Festival – and told him I was going to give any profits I made to local musicians and the newly-formed Baldock Musicians Support Fund. I transferred the cash at the end of every week so they could organise and decide the best place for it to go.
“Within a few weeks we were crazy busy. We were taking ten grand a week – it was incredible. Volunteers rallied round, helping with home deliveries and making sure we were well-stocked. The folks from We Love Baldock helped spread the message that this was non-profit and run by volunteers. It was official: The Orange Tree had become an off-licence and grocers.”
While The Orange Tree reopened as a pub on July 4, Rob said he is “so proud” to be able to say that he never closed his doors during lockdown.
“We must be in the less than one per cent of pubs across the country that opened every single day. In the 15 weeks since that Saturday morning back in March, we have raised an utterly incredible £22,119.25. We have helped 16 local musicians with their rent or mortgage deposit savings – or to simply put decent food on their tables.
“I must send thanks to the people of Baldock who have supported us by coming to the shop, joining us online, donating to the fund, or just sending messages of love and support. You raised this money, this wouldn’t have happened without you. You are awesome.”
The grocery store will now become a permanent fixture at The Orange Tree, and will soon move to a new permanent purpose-built area in the old smoking shelter. It remains open 3pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday, and 12 noon to 3pm Saturday and Sunday.
Rob says he hopes to welcome live music back as soon as possible, and says he will be looking to restart Sunday lunches within a few weeks, as soon as more government restrictions can be lifted.
A new outdoor drinking area is also currently under construction, and should be ready for its grand opening towards the end of next week.
“I want to thank the The Orange Tree crew, especially Kieren and Pat who have volunteered hours and hours to keep everything going,” Rob said. “We simply could not have done this without you.
“Finally and most importantly, the inspiration, energy and drive to do this came from my children Connan and Keira. They know I’ve done just a little something to help people through this awful time that they can both be proud of.”