Local pubs are often the hub of the community.
That’s certainly the case in Drewsteignton where The Drewe Arms has been supporting local people on Dartmoor throughout the coronavirus pandemic despite, like all pubs across the country, being closed during the lockdown.
The pub received a £500 grant from Devon County Council’s Prompt Action Fund and it has made it go a long way – ensuring people have had access to food over the past few months.
Gary Hitching, landlord at the Drewe Arms for the past seven years, used the funding to buy ingredients and packaging to make and freeze home-made meals for local members of the community.
Gary set up a freezer and mini-foodbank at the entrance to the church as a collection point where people could help themselves.
After promoting the service on local community Facebook sites, he was preparing 20 meals every three or four days during the first month.
Gary said: “We put the freezer in the church entrance to the church before lockdown because people were panic-buying and this was a way to make food available for anybody who might need it or didn’t want to go to any shops.
“We know every single person in this village so we know who’s likely to get on a bus and go into town to shop, but we also knew some people that weren’t able to get out as soon as we were locked down.
“The food wasn’t just for the elderly. We had a nurse using it for the first two or three weeks of lockdown. There were people who had lost their jobs or weren’t furloughed straight away. They all benefited.”
Other people have been adding to the food available in the church porch, and everyone who visits is asked to observe good hand hygiene by wiping their hands when they go in and out.
Gary added: “The funding was very welcome, it really helped – however, while the grant came to me, it was used to benefit the whole district because everything was bought locally. I was able to buy meat from Michael Howard Butchers in Moretonhampstead, veg from Dart Fresh in Exeter and milk from Dunn’s Dairy.
“As well as picking up the food they want, people have also been communicating through notes left for each other. In a way it’s replaced meeting at the pub, but we have still had a community associated with the pub through open mic nights on Facebook.”
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Communities, said: “Pubs have always been an integral part of the fabric of our local communities, and Gary at the Drewe Arms has highlighted exactly why that is. This project may not have received a huge grant from the Prompt Action Fund but it’s done a massive amount of good for the local community and in supporting local businesses. Food is a basic necessity and Gary has been ensuring that people in the area haven’t gone short – so I would like to add my thanks to those I’m sure he would have received from everyone he’s helped. This is the kind of community spirit that makes Devon such a special place.”
While the pub has been closed, Gary has not only been giving the pub a facelift, but he’s also been working as chef at a local care home in Moretonhampstead. He’s also delivering food to a couple in their 90’s in Drewsteignton who are shielding.
“It’s been really nice to cook at the care home, and it hasn’t been very different from cooking at the pub,” he says. “It’s good, home-cooked food, the same as at the pub.”
Gary admits that there is uncertainty over the pub re-opening. The pub has missed out on its busiest months from April to June, when it relies on key dates of Mothers’ Day, Easter and its four-day beer festival in May to help see it through the rest of the year. However, negotiations with the owners of the freehold of the pub are continuing.
Although the frozen meals scheme has now finished, as the church prepares to re-open, Gary is proud that the scheme was so well received.
He added: “I wasn’t surprised at how well supported it’s been. Dartmoor is a very close community so there would always be something like this. Drewsteignton is an amazing place. I’ve been here seven years since leaving the RAF so it’s my home. We all help each other.”