Independent, multi-site pub group, Oakman Inns, and their Founder and Chairman, Peter Borg-Neal, are no strangers to winning awards, in good times. However, winning two that have been voted for by your peers is bound to be a special moment.
This week, the accolades were awarded at the virtual CGA Peach Hero & Icon Awards – which were hosted by the hospitality industry’s international data and insight consultancy, CGA.
Voted for by leaders across the entire spectrum of the hospitality industry - from operators of all sizes to suppliers including farmers, breweries and technology companies - Borg-Neal won both Communicator of The Year and Individual of The Year, a testimony to the work he has put into encouraging and driving both his company and the industry towards a sense of normality.
The 28-strong pub company has been recognised for their work in the communities their pubs and restaurants serve, and for their strong collaborative staff ethos that has helped develop and launch thousands of careers. They have been lauded for their popularity amongst a broad church of customers. Rarely, however, has an accolade meant quite so much to Borg-Neal.
He commented, “When the pandemic broke out, I was determined that we tried to communicate at every opportunity how safe an environment an Oakman Inn could be, and thus, across the industry so that the public would have confidence in relaxing in a sociable, pleasant environment.
'We helped advise The Cabinet Office and assisted them with the production of a number of communications on best practice and Covid-safe hospitality environments.
“However, we have also worked tirelessly to make the point that there never was and never has been any UK-based peer-reviewed scientific data to show that generically pubs, restaurants, or bars or, indeed, any part of the hospitality industry have been a leading source of transmissions of the virus.
'So, that award for communicating my passion to defend our extraordinary industry means so much to me, but really should be shared with the other nominees who have worked without a break to get our messages across - with a special mention for Hospitality Union’s Jonathan Downey.
“Watching the rest of the awards, I was totally unprepared when they announced I’d won the ‘Individual of The Year’ and that was a moment where I have to confess, I became quite emotional.
'I have been in the industry since I was a young man, and started right at the bottom simply believing that if I worked hard and stayed out of trouble, I might make something of a career from it.
'To receive this from my Peers is very humbling and a huge honour. Furthermore, it is recognition that should be shared with all of the Oakman team and especially our CEO, Dermot King, who is doing an amazing job in his new role.”
Borg-Neal, King and the team are now busy planning the re-opening of their pubs on 3rd December, in time for Christmas. During Lockdown2, they have been creating safe and convivial ways for guests to eat ‘out’ at their pubs with larger gardens, and have installed enchanting, glazed igloos – or ‘OakPods’ – for groups of up to eight.
Borg-Neal finished, “We are fortunate to own pubs with large outdoor spaces and the pandemic has forced us to think creatively to adapt to the changing situation.
'Our ‘OakPods’ provide a bio-secure and cosy environment and can be serviced remotely. We’ve been marketing them as a “Night Under the Stars”, because these magical “pods” provide such a great view of the night sky – and they are proving very popular.”