Returning to the workplace

If my maths is right, it’s 490 days since I last spent a whole day in the office. That is, working at a desk (or workstation as we now call them), having meetings with colleagues and nipping to the canteen or into town for lunch.

Like everyone else, little did I know, as I made my journey home that day, that that was that. But now, more than a year later, I will head back to the office.

I write this sat in my home office on a Friday afternoon. With one, hopefully sunny, weekend ahead of me before I set my compass for the office. Back in March last year, I had no office. In fact, I didn’t have a desk, a chair, nor anything else designed for working at home.

It’s a slow and phased return. So, I’ll only be in the office a day a week to begin with. I don’t doubt that these early days will be more about reconnecting with colleagues than about productive work. But that doesn’t make them any less important.

I’ve been working on our plans for agile working and the return to the workplace for some time. Abortive work started in late 2020, before the focus shifted back to staying safe in lockdown. But much of 2021 has been focused on how we get back to the office, and how we bring employees along for the journey.

It’s not been an easy task, but it’s been a crucial one.

The first challenge was setting and communicating a vision for agile working that people could understand. In a highly regulated industry like ours, this perhaps means a little less individual flexibility than for people in other sectors. But regardless of that, it’s new, it’s different and it will see most office workers going from working in one fixed location at one fixed desk, to several locations, depending on what they’re doing.

Agile working will succeed or fail depending on how much people buy in to it. Everyone will need to work differently and adapting to this might not be easy at first.

But by working together; by sharing information quickly; by being honest about the expectations of the business; and by encouraging people to be kind, respectful and supportive, I hope we have made it a little easier.

Kindness is crucial. People are going to be doing something new – something unfamiliar. They’re likely to feel anxious about this. Even those who are desperate to get back to the office will need time to adapt.

For me, I often like the comfort of familiarity. I like to know where I am going, how to get there and what to expect when I arrive. That means this week I’ll get the anxious Sunday evening feeling and some Monday morning trepidation, but I think it’ll disappear pretty quickly after I find a workstation and settle in.

Helping your friends and colleagues, and even those you don’t know through the process will be important.

In practice, this means following the rules. It means offering people support. It means not publicly challenging people who get things wrong. It means offering advice and tips to people you see having problems. It also means checking in with people who you think could be struggling with the return. Above all else, it means trying to be positive.

At an organisation like mine, it also means bearing in mind that half our workforce has been at work throughout the pandemic, and it’s their hard work and adaptation that has made it safe for us to return, having learned from their experiences.

Of course, there are also lots of practical things we can do to smooth the bumps. I have marked my Outlook diary with the days I am in the office, so people know how to contact me. I’ll be rearranging my diary to ensure I avoid Teams and Zoom meetings when in the office. I have made sure I know how to contact my colleagues, and I have made sure I have clear priorities for the next few weeks.

To anyone returning to the workplace next week or to anyone embracing hybrid/blended/agile working, I wish you the very best of luck.

To those of you who have been in the workplace throughout the pandemic or who have been working this way for years and are wondering what all the fuss is about, I thank you for your efforts.

Now, where’s my rucksack?

 

Not so hidden

On the one hand, paying £7.50 for a cardboard carton of soup and a paper bag of bread sounds quite ridiculous. 

When you point out that this is at seaside shack with views to die for, it starts to make a little more sense. 

And when you realise that this is at the Hidden Hut – a venue with its own following, regular TV appearances and a beautiful cookbook – it makes perfect sense. 

The first thing to say about the Hidden Hut is that despite no signage or visible marketing, it’s anything but hidden. Over time, its reputation has grown enough to make details like advertising entirely unnecessary. 

The picture shows the Hidden Hut and the seating to the front, side and behind the hut. You can see the kitchen area to the right and a wider view of the surrounding fields. There are lots of people eating or queueing.
The Hidden Hut had been found by a few others.

In fact, the mere mention of a trip to Cornwall is likely to lead to a recommendation to visit from those ‘in the know’. 

But they’d be right. 

The hut is perched above the sea at Porthcurnick Beach. This isn’t one of the county’s most famous beaches, nor given the competition, the most beautiful. But that’s all part of the charm. 

The cafe looks primitive, which means it’s in keeping with the surroundings. A wooden hut and outdoor kitchen greet you, along with seating cut from logs. 

The cafe sits on the coastal path, which means you bear left to walk the coast or, as most choose, filter right if you’re tempted by the smells or the queue of eager diners. 

The menu is short and simple. That is to say the offerings are rustic and homely, rather than basic. They reflect the fact that the team are cooking outside in facilities that can be removed as necessitated by the weather or seasons. 

Think pots of stew, warming soups, and famously fresh seafood served with hot hunks of bread and you’ll be along the right lines. 

There’s a lovely range of cakes and pastries to tempt those with a sweet tooth, and all the usual hot and cold drinks to warm you up or cool you down as appropriate. 

I went for a delicious homemade soup – mushroom and celeriac, topped with a Cornish blue cheese croutons. This was served with the aforementioned warm bread and this dunked into the thick, enveloping soup made for a happy chappy. 

A cup of mushroom and celeriac soup with blue cheese croutons, with a view of the sea, beach and cliffs in the background.
Soup with a view.

Charlotte plumped for a hot pulled pork ciabatta – though the name really is a disservice to what she was presented with. There wasn’t a hint of bbq sauce and the pork was thick and juicy. It was topped with fennel and red cabbage coleslaw, a salsa verde and wild rocket. The bread was light and fluffy with a crispy crust – a cloud on which the pork could rest! It was worth every one of the nine quid it cost.

We sat and ate our food overlooking the beach. Beneath us were a mix of brave swimmers, hardy dog walkers and many, many other happy diners. 

A pulled pork ciabatta, with salsa verde and salad leaves. The sandwich is pictured with the view.of the beach in the background.
Pulled pork, but not as you know it.

Having finished our food, we recycled our dining plates and cups and headed off back up the hill, never once questioning the value for money of a meal, instead reflecting on a dining experience as good as any we had while visiting Cornwall. 

Later this year, they’re planning to relaunch their popular feast nights where 80-100 people gather in the evening, whatever the weather, to dine on that night’s dish. Look out for these on social media. But in truth, by the time you hear it, they’ll be sold out. 

That probably says it all. 

All the info you need is at www.hiddenhut.co.uk. Or buy the cook book and try the recipes for yourself at home. That’s what I’ll be doing next. 

A picture of the Hidden Hut cook book on our sofa at home, ready for use. The book features countless recipes from the cafe, as well as stories of the venue. The cover features a crab claw on a blue wooden board background. The author is the Hidden Hut's owner Simon Stallard.
Inspiration for the weeks’ ahead.

Getting a buzz from the bus station


My memories of Whitehaven bus station aren’t of the halcyon days. By the time I came to use it, it was for Saturday visits to spend my pocket money in the town centre (pick and mix and singles from Woolworths, and stationery from WH Smiths, for the record).

At this point, it was pretty run down. There were fewer buses and therefore fewer people. Colourful advertising hoardings were long gone, and the travel centre was on its last legs. It also stunk of pee.

That’s when it was open. 

For almost twenty years since then, it’s been decaying. The once proud building, a shadow of its former self.

So, the fact that the bus station has been redeveloped is positive news in itself. One of the iconic buildings, at a gateway to the town, will be thriving again.

A picture of the newly renovated former bus station in Whitehaven, which is becoming a new business incubation centre.
Back to its former glory, and with a new lease of life.

That’s before you consider that the facility will become an incubator for new businesses – leading to investment and new jobs in Whitehaven.

It’s before you consider that one of the world’s biggest banks is bringing its Eagle Lab concept to a small town – sitting alongside its other venues in the North West – Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester.

It’s before you consider that it’s got an inspiring new catering facility. This is creating more jobs and providing a service to the bus station and to the town. 

I was lucky enough to take a tour round the bus station earlier this month, and it was inspiring. The sepia-tinted memories of the fume-filled depot were shot to pieces.

The new facility is light, airy and modern. It’s been designed for the future, not the past.

Three separate spaces are joined seamlessly, allowing movement between each of them.

This means flexible spaces that can be used by businesses large or small, with kit to try out new ideas. It means a place where businesses can collaborate and share ideas – moving from small office space to labs and meeting spaces.

The Peddlar cafe bar. A facility that will serve the centre and the town.

The facility has already found its first tenants. I really can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned.

For me, facilities like the bus station demonstrate the value of social impact. Gone are the days of small grants for community football team kits and family fun days. These grants were helpful but rarely delivered long lasting change 

In their place are fewer, larger programmes of work to provide a sea change to the economy, to the community in which Sellafield sits – bringing better life chances to all they reach. 

I don’t doubt that the bus station will provide a boost to a side of town that needs it. After all, when I used to get the number 12 bus to town, Tangier Street and Duke Street were both still shopping streets. How times have changed.

You can read more about our Social Impact programme – SiX here.

And as a final point, I am delighted that the Buzz Station name was dropped!

Celebrating success

I passionately believe that your workforce is your most important audience. If you’re planning a project, or are managing an issue, employees should be the first group listed in the audience section of your comms plan.

Your employees can be your most powerful advocates. They can also be your fiercest critics. It might seem obvious, but it’s people that deliver projects. It’s people that achieve your milestones. It’s people that transform an organisation.

Today was our employee awards – the Wave Awards – ceremony. It’s usually an annual event. The pandemic meant it was eighteen months since we last gathered in a room to celebrate employee successes.

Despite the challenges, we knew the show must go on. Celebrating successes is writ large in our Manifesto, and it’s a behaviour we should all encourage.

Working in employee communications, it’s always one of the very best events of the year. And despite this one taking place virtually with fewer people gathered in a room, this was as true as ever.

So, there was no physical event. This meant fewer ill-fitting tuxedos and badly tied bowties. There were fewer awkward conversations with tablemates. No physical event meant people could relax in their own home or at their desk, and they could enjoy the event without any of the usual distractions.

Our virtual Wave Awards had more than 190 entries from all across our business. This meant almost two hundred examples of people going the extra mile. There were two hundred teams who felt their achievement was worth shouting about. Two hundred success stories to share.

And what stories they were.

• We heard of an employee who saved the life of a grandparent taken ill.
• We heard how our work has adapted and how we’d continued to deliver in the face of adversity.
• We heard how a team delivered a task considered impossible. They delivered an oil change in a highly radioactive environment, keeping mission moving.
• We heard how our IT department reacted to the pandemic to introduce remote working measures at a pace never seen before.
• We learned how we managed to introduce one of the first Covid-19 test facilities at an industrial site.

We even heard how the internal communications team quickly introduced new channels to keep everyone up to date in a pandemic.

At times people say that Sellafield moves too slowly, that we don’t collaborate and struggle to address our biggest challenges. Today’s awards proved this is far from the truth; that the opposite is true.

The common thread throughout the 190 entries, 40 shortlisted entries and 10 winners, was the pride from all those involved.

As a member of the organising committee for the last two years, I feel proud to have been able to do my bit – a small effort really – to celebrate our employees’ successes.

Because a workforce filled with pride is a workforce who deliver.

Well done to everyone who won awards at this year’s event.

Commiserations to those who missed out. Believe me when I say that the judges were proud of each and every one of you.

One year of this – whatever this is

I imagine there will be a whole gang of people dusting off their typewriters, as we mark the first anniversary of the Covid-19 lives we lead.

Recording our thoughts, particularly of such an abnormal year, feels important.

A year ago today, I started working from home. A pregnant partner meant I was a taking no chances and immediately followed the developing guidance.

That first day of working from home feels a lifetime ago. I sat on the sofa and worked with a laptop on a cushion. I had 5 Live on in the background. At the end of the day, I was in pain and felt overwhelmed.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since that point.

From a personal point of view: we’ve had the baby and I now have a son, we’ve moved house and I now have an office, and my sister is pregnant and will soon have a new baby.

From a professional point of view, I’ve learned, adapted, worked more flexibly and have grown as a result. I’m part of a smaller, but closer internal communications team than existed at the start of the pandemic.

We’ve learned to work differently, to delegate work, to seize opportunities and to support each other. We’re better for that.

Here are a few reflections on the past year.

Fresh air

Exercise has been at the very top of the list of things that has kept me sane. Any time I have struggled, felt frustrated or overwhelmed, or needed an energy boost, it’s been exercise that has delivered it.

During lockdown one, I walked in the afternoon sun most days. It made such a difference, and I can feel the same endorphin boost, now the light nights are returning.

Nothing else comes close.

Your story is your story

Each and every one of us has struggled during the past year. But we’ve probably struggled at different times and for different reasons. We might not even know why.

That’s fine. It’s important. We are all different and have different emotions, triggers and breaking points.

We can’t claim to understand all of these, but what we do is recognise this different, and ensure we tailor our behaviours accordingly.

This is especially important in a world where our views can be taken as defining us. It’s a world where discussions no longer allow for ambiguity, complexity or difference of opinion.

Flexibility

It’s a word we use a lot now, and it has many meanings. Put simply, we’ve all had to be more flexible than we ever imagined. We’ve had to be more creative and be better problem solvers.

We’ve done it. Our friends have done it. Our colleagues have done it. Even our favourite restaurants have done it.

It’s a real positive, and long must it continue. We know we won’t be returning to the life we had before. To make the most of it, we need to continue in the same spirit, not try to emulate what went before.

To me this means continuing to use new technology, working in different ways, having different outlooks, and again prioritising empathy and understanding.

Now, what will the next year bring?

I can only imagine.

Says it all

One month back

Today is Time to Talk Day. It’s also one month since we returned to work after the Christmas break.

Teddy at 7 months.jpg
Teddy makes even the darkest days lighter

It’s fair to say that after a busy and draining month, that break now feels like a lifetime ago.

We’re now well and truly into our third lockdown, and I don’t think I am alone in saying that this one feels harder and darker than those that have gone before.

During the first lockdown, we quickly adapted to working from home. Working in communications was busy, but it was important. Speaking to colleagues to understand how they felt about the pandemic and their new working arrangements was interesting, and sharing their stories felt vital.

Coming back into the office and starting this again felt more like Groundhog Day than I might have imagined. It felt like we had simply rewound the clock and were starting the process again. Only people were tired of it, they were more cynical and they know what to expect.

We’ve gone from something that felt strange yet exciting to something that’s routine and mundane. During the first lockdown, we all had visions of living our lives differently – learning new skills or exercising more and even just enjoying the outdoors. This time, we have more realistic expectations and the weather is less appealing.

Despite this, we carry on.

So, if on this year’s Time to Talk Day, you don’t feel as positive as you have in the past, that really is understandable. And that’s ok.

If that is the case, then it really is a good time to have a chat with a friend or colleague. In fact, why not check in with someone you’ve not spoken to recently? After all, if you’re feeling a little more flat than normal, then they probably are too.

If you don’t feel able to chat to a friend, but need a listening ear, then please make contact with one of the many mental health support services available.

Meeting mayhem

In recent weeks, my diary started to fill up with meetings again.

Working from home is different to working from the office.

There was a lull while we were finding our feet and deciding which work needed to continue. But that’s long since ended. People know their days now, and the assumption is that work continues as planned pre-pandemic.

And that’s fine.

But our lives have changed.

We’re not in the office like we used to be. We’re working from home, and home is different.

In the office, if you were in back to back meetings, a colleague might grab you a coffee. That doesn’t happen at home.

In the office, a colleague might flag that you were running late because you had nipped to the toilet. That doesn’t happen at home.

Half an hour meetings appear to be a new trend when working from home. Short meetings have got to be a good thing. But you probably can’t start them late if your previous meeting overruns.

Half an hour meetings are increasing in popularity. Short meetings are a good thing. But having two in an hour, preceded or follow by another can be intense.

Meetings are often helpful. So, on the day this week where my diary was back to back, I accept that’s just the way it is (even if I do worry when I’ll complete my actions).

I don’t think there is an easy solution to this issue, and I know that other people have more intense diaries than I do. But here are some simple suggestions that might help.

If you’re booking a meeting, take a look at the diaries of those you want to attend. Is your request reasonable?

Try and avoid booking meetings at lunchtime or outside of the employee’s working times, especially if you’ve not checked with them first. They might be willing to take the meeting, but it really should be their choice.

Why not block some time out each day for a proper lunch break? I’ve blocked out 90 minutes from 12pm to 1:30pm. I don’t plan to take a 90-minute lunch, but I know my last meeting before lunch often overruns, and that 1pm looks an ideal meeting slot to some.

Use technology to help. Microsoft Outlook can set your default meeting times to multiples of 25 minutes rather than 30. Using this would mean 25 and 50 minute meetings become the norm, rather than 30 and 60.

We’ll soon be starting and ending our working days in the dark. Without a walk to the car/tube/train/office, we are only left with lunchtime to get some sunlight. We need it.

In praise of: the festive baguette

Some things are greater than the sum of their parts. You only need to look at the Leeds United team that finally got promoted in 2019/20 – some decent individuals, but probably not the collective you’d imagine would eventually run away with the title.

Battered pigs in blankets? Oh yes!

The same is true of food. In fact, there is no better example than the festive baguette.

When you think about it, it shouldn’t really work. There are better meats for a sandwich than turkey, pigs in blankets don’t necessarily fit (physically and aesthetically), gravy and cranberry sauce make for a messy and wet eat.

And yet it does, as the recent surge in popularity demonstrates. Not only do most sandwich shops, chippies and cafes now offer their own take on the festive baguette, but their arrival is as eagerly awaited as the John Lewis advert.

This feels like a fairly recent phenomenon to me. Yes, you’ve been able to get a Christmas sandwich for sometime, and many sandwich shops offered a hot baguette option, but they weren’t as big a thing. In fact, I think it’s probably only in the last couple of years that they’ve moved from being a menu choice to a ‘thing’.

This year’s launch has coincided with the start of the second national lockdown. That’s probably a deliberate choice by caterers quick to spot a trend, recognising we need some cheer in our lives.

They’re proving popular. Egremont’s Noah’s Plaice sold out of its full festive menu mere hours after launch, and Whitehaven’s Sandwich Man sold 250 of his baguettes in a week.

The pimping of the baguettes was inevitable. Options available this year include a side of roast potatoes and gravy (the Park Head, Thornhill), battered pigs in blankets (Noah’s Plaice) and brussel sprouts bringing some welcome colour (Number 11, Whitehaven).

So what, and who makes a good festive baguette?

While they’re a simple product, there are a few key things that help make a good one:

  • Moist meat – turkey can be famously dry. The trick to keeping the meat moist is to heat it in the gravy.
  • Structural integrity – the baguette has to do a lot of leg work on your baguette. While warm and soft might seem like the right answer, you need it to be crisp so it stays in tact as you tear through it.
  • The additions – pigs in blankets (or ‘best-thing-about-Christmasses’ as I know them) are key, but they need to be right. Overcooking them makes them too crisp and too hard to eat. You also need the right amount of stuffing – enough to bring a softer, herby flavour; but not so much to overwhelm.
  • Temperature – this is a hot sandwich. Anything else is an imposter, and frankly isn’t worth bothering with. 

The increase in popularity, means that it’s easier than ever to get a good baguette. I’d suggest avoiding the chains. Their efforts will be mass produced, and that probably means an inferior product, lacking in filling. I’m looking at you, Greggs. Your pigs under blankets aren’t doing it!

Noah’s Plaice in Egremont does a mean baguette and the fact they serve it with some very decent chippy-chips is no bad thing. They batter and deep fry their pigs in blankets and stuffing balls, and that enhances things. This ensures the pigs in blankets stay moist. The batter is light and crisp too.

Taste in the Market Place in Whitehaven has done a great baguette since they opened. They’re all about moist turkey and a crispy baguette. You can understand why they have a queue each year.

I’m told the Park Head ones are great – certainly the roast potatoes would be an incentive. 

Given he’s sold 250 in a week, Sandwich Man’s baguettes look worth a try too. The pictures on Instagram show a fresh, well presented sandwich, packed with tasty fillings.

Give them a go and let me know what you think. 

Six months in, six more to go?

I’ve been working at home for a little over six months now. I can split that period into two three-month chunks – before Teddy and after.

One of those periods felt less stressful than the other. And despite the convenience of a three-month old baby to blame, I don’t think that gives the full picture.

Teddy and Oscar looking innocent

Last night, when reading messages in a group chat of communications colleagues from across the country and in different sectors, I noticed that lots of us are struggling. Most of that group don’t have new babies, either.

So, what is going on? I think it’s a few things.

Six months ago, coronavirus and lockdown hit us suddenly. While we could all see the situation in Wuhan and the far east developing, when it reached the UK, we moved quickly into lockdown.

For many communicators, this meant dusting off emergency and business continuity plans at the same time. As anyone who has managed a crisis will tell you, when that happens, the adrenaline starts pumping.

And it keeps pumping. For longer than you might realise. As we talked of a new normal, the reality was getting some sleep and then responding to the next challenge – as my old manager used to say, “I’ll crash into that bridge when I come to it.”

But that can’t continue indefinitely. In the group discussion lots of us talked about the meetings we have: the meetings that bookend the working day, and the ones that are sandwiched next to others. The ones that mean we have little time for actions – the actions that inevitably flow from them.

We’re all now preparing for a second wave, when truthfully, we’ve not really dusted ourselves off from the first. We might have taken some leave, but it’s rarely been totally free of work – either because we stay connected or because we can’t miss the news and the opportunity to ponder how an announcement will impact on our organisations.

So, the second wave means the opportunity, or necessity, of reflecting on what did and didn’t go well six months ago, and how we can improve things now. That probably requires more work. At the very least, it requires more thinking time. I’m not sure many of us have that.

The truth is, it’s harder to go again.

We’re six months in and have just heard that new measures might last another six months. Not only do we have to try and come to terms with this, we have to do so while helping colleagues to do the same.

And we must do this while trying to avoid overcommunicating. If we’re tired, so are other people. If we struggle to take everything in and understand what it means for us, then so do others.

As someone said to me today, it feels like we’re trying to get people to take a drink out of a fire hose.

The reality of Covid-19 is that there isn’t much we can do to change this. What we can do is remind people of the value of communications. We can ask our leaders to consider the prioritisation of the messages they wish to communicate. We can remind them that everyone is exhausted and overwhelmed, and it’s our job to help them navigate this.

The final thing we can all do, is remember that others are in the same boat. It was a relief to read the messages from people I admire and respect saying the same thing about being overwhelmed. Check in with those people. Hearing their challenges can help put your own into perspective, and it can also help us find common solutions.

If you’re reading this and don’t feel in the same boat, take a quick look around your colleagues. Are any of them showing warning signs that you’ve not noticed? If so, help them. In any way you can.

Take care.

Oscar taking in Thirlmere, during a period of escapism!

Review: The Parkers Arms

Social media can be blamed for lots of the problems in the world today. But last Saturday night, I was thankful for it, as I sat in a fantastic pub in the Trough of Bowland.

I’ve followed the Parkers Arms on social media for quite some time. Their witty and honest posts on Twitter coupled with some stunning food photography there and on Instagram ensured that it was there we headed when we had both a free Saturday evening and a babysitter.

As we arrived in the village of Newton-in-Bowland and pulled into the car park, we were worried we’d made a big mistake – the lights were off and it looked like no one was home. In reality, this was just one of the signs that the hospitality industry is changing beyond recognition. The pub now opens at 7pm, ready for it’s first diners.

Thankfully the doors were quickly opened, and we were greeted by a warm welcome and a roaring fire.

Very decent beer from the Bowland Brewery six miles down the road

Covid really does make everything different, but thankfully my memories are of the stunning food, not the WhatsApp bar system and writing our own orders. Both of these innovations worked well, and clearly demonstrated that the pub is taking its responsibilities of preventing the spread of coronavirus seriously.

The menu is concise and gives an immediate indication of how seriously they take their food. It changes daily, so you’ll struggle to find a copy online. But some things are always available, including an interesting (and photogenic, if Instagram is to be believed) pie and some fresh fish (more of that later).

Our drinks, ordered as requested, via WhatsApp, arrived very quickly, and our food order was swiftly taken.

The starters arrived just as quickly and were a lovely introduction to what was to follow. I picked garden vegetable fritters and discovered a decidedly more local take on the Indian bhaji. Charlotte ordered the Middle Eastern lamb manouche (stuffed flatbread), which was rich and fragrant.

A Lancashire take on the bhaji

As nice as the starters were, it was the main courses which blew us away. A number of the items are cooked over charcoal, and we both took advantage of this.

Charlotte’s thick, charred chop was an example of why pork really is an underrated meat. The flavours from the charring and caramelisation of the fat, coupled with the moist, brined meat was a sensation. The meat was the star of the show, with the sides of garden mint ‘slaw and triple cooked chips served separately. All that accompanied the meat on the plate was a tangy apple ketchup, which complemented the meat perfectly.

While in awe at the plate of meat opposite me, I was just as impressed with the whole turbot which was served to me. This huge fish had also been cooked over coals and was served with a tangy lemon butter and wild seaweed. The flavour of the fish was front and centre, and it had been cooked perfectly. I also chose the triple cooked chips, and these were crispy, gnarly chunks of potato with perfectly fluffy innards.

One whole fish

We both chose the set menu, which meant we both had desserts, when we might not, strictly, have needed them. My Portuguese egg custard tart with tart damsons and cream was as good an example as I’ve found in this country. Charlotte’s frangipani flan was just as decadent a treat.

The dining room was socially distant, but as it was full, it was still filled with atmosphere. This is helped by AJ’s warm and somewhat eccentric style of hosting. He makes you feel incredibly welcome.

Times are tough for the hospitality industry. It was clear at the Parkers Arms that they’re having to work even harder to make things a success. Thankfully for them, the meal, service and drinks were all exceptional, and the price was brilliant. All the food was locally sourced, and you really could taste the quality.

Lancashire heads into local lockdown today, and we’re now digesting the announcement from the prime minister on new measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The simple menu of delicious, locally sourced food. Three courses for £35 is a snip.

These will only make things harder for places like the Parkers Arms. So, my plea is if it’s somewhere you’ve considered visiting, and you are able, now would be a good time to do it. And if this review has whetted your appetite, get booking.

If the government want to see how they can stop the spread, they could do a lot worse than look in the direction of Newton-in-Bowland – if they can find it.