THE manager of a pub crowned as lockdown heroes at a national awards has spoken of her shock and delight at receiving the gong.

The Victoria in Newton-le-Willows was named one of the winners at the 21st annual Great British Pub Awards, for going the extra mile to support the community during the height of the lockdown last spring.

When the pub had to close in March, licensee Katherine O’Neill set up a food bank on-site and started making food hampers each morning to deliver to those who were vulnerable and shielding in the community.

Together with local volunteer group ‘Newton Helping Hands’, Kath and her team at the pub delivered to 150 houses per week throughout the lockdown period.

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As Easter approached, the group helped to raise more than £1,000 to buy 2,500 Easter eggs, which were stored at the pub before being delivered on Easter Sunday to every primary school child in Newton-le-Willows.

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Comedian Johnny Vegas got involved in the community effort and made weekly donations to the food bank. A takeaway service was also set up at The Victoria, for those who could still go out and about but who wanted to treat themselves.

On winning the award, Katherine said: "When they announced it, I just went into shock."

She added: "If you've got the time and you've got the space why not.

"In a world you can be anything, be kind. we've worked together so well and we all want the best for each other. That's what we should be doing and I think it's proven to everybody that we're a small town but we have got each other's backs and we'll do what we can to help one another."

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Newton ward councillor Gomez-Aspron, who is also involved with the Newton and Earlestown Comminity Group, said: "The Victoria pub at Newton-le-Willows is based at the heart of the community, it's a family pub, it was the perfect partner because it shares the same values as the community group and so we can't thank Kath, the pub and the brewery enough for what they've done to support the project."

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Having seen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities across the country, and on the pubs that sit at their heart, The Great British Pub Awards have changed focus this year.

The aim was to recognise and celebrate publicans’ selfless acts of kindness in lockdown, from feeding vulnerable members of the community and providing NHS workers with somewhere to stay, to keeping morale high when people needed it most.

Coca-Cola has provided a £165,000 fund for the winning pubs, to help them continue their community work and make vital business improvements or upgrades over the coming months.

Nearly 1,000 pubs entered across the 15 categories, and the winners were chosen by the public. More than 65,000 voters had their say, before a virtual awards ceremony hosted by TV presenter Stephen Mulhern last Thursday, September 24.

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