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Shutdown meant temporary last orders for hundreds of pubs across Liverpool, but it’s not been the end of night at the local for thousands of punters.
Almost 60,000 are now regulars at the Liverpool Virtual Pub, an online version of everyone’s favourite friendly Scouse boozer.
They’ve been logging on to the Facebook group for live entertainment and bar banter – as well as helping to raise money for causes supporting the vulnerable to get through the coronavirus crisis.
The idea for the Liverpool Virtual Pub came from deputy head teacher Paul McEvoy, who set it up in the week that schools closed.
“Like everyone else, when the lockdown started I was missing out on going to see my friends and having a drink with them,” he explains, “so I thought the pub would be a way to satisfy everyone’s urge to still have a drink on a Friday and Saturday and socialise.
“The second reason for doing it was for charity – to make some money for really good causes.
“I’ve worked in schools for nearly 15 years and I’ve been a footy coach, I like to bring people together and do things that are good for the community, and I do believe that Liverpool is THE best city. I just knew people would really enjoy getting involved in it.”
You might also spot a familiar face singing in The Virtee, own very own Lindzi Germain perform every weekend.
Even though the membership has snowballed to almost 60,000 in just a couple of weeks, virtual landlord Paul, who’s from north Liverpool, says he isn’t really surprised.
“I never really gave any thought to how many people we’d get, I just knew loads of people would love it because everyone’s stuck in their houses and they want to have a bit of fun.
“The virtual pub just ticks so many boxes – all you’ve got to do on a Friday and Saturday night is turn your phone or your laptop on and you’re there. It’s the next best thing to being out.”
Although Liverpool Virtual Pub has live acts on at weekends, members submit posts all week. So much so that 33-year-old Paul, his wife Laurie who’s a hairdresser, his sister-in-law and brother spend hours every day trying to go through them. They’re helped by one of Laurie’ clients and a family friend who is retired but it’s still a huge task.
“The response has been unbelievable,” he says. “We’ve had a million comments and we’ve got 8,500 posts waiting to be looked at. We all go on throughout the day and approve or decline posts, mostly we tend to approve things that are fun, family, nice things, anything to do with the NHS or just people sitting at home having a drink and joining in.
“We try and post as much as we can because the more we post, the more people talk.
“What was really important for me when I started this was that it had the feel of a Liverpool pub, like when you go to places like the Croc, and it’s as if everyone knows everyone and even if you turn up on your own people talk to you. In Liverpool they’re the best places to go because they’re just full of such different people and they’re always really relaxed, that’s the feel we wanted to create.”
An important part of that is the live entertainment which people can sit at home and all watch together. Paul draws up a list of acts for Friday and Saturday, often from singers who’ve messaged to get involved, who perform from 7.30pm to around 11pm on both nights.
“The technical side is actually quite easy to do, the performers just go to the Facebook group when they’re due to perform, click the live button, it comes through to me as a post and I approve it,” says Paul.
“Everyone does a half-hour slot, so we have about six acts a night, and on Saturdays we also have a pub quiz with Sarah Kemp who is absolutely brilliant, on at 8.40pm.
“After the last act, that’s when people tend to donate and so far we’ve raised £6,000 for two charities – 20% goes to the Coronavirus Relief Fund, giving money to vulnerable communities, and 80% to the Melling Community Volunteers, working with the Horse & Jockey Pub, dropping off meals for people who can’t get out, picking up prescriptions, everything that’s needed now.”
From this weekend, Paul will change the 20% charity every week, answering some of the many requests he’s had for help.
And he’s also planning to bring in a new theme each weekend too. Last weekend’s was summertime, and next, by popular demand, will be love.
“That’s because one of the big things that’s happened at the pub is it’s become a place for singles who are looking for love,” says Paul. “This Saturday will have a love theme and I’m even thinking of doing a speed dating night if I can sort that out.”
Although Liverpool Virtual Pub began life as his creation, Paul is open to ideas and feedback from regulars actually gave the pub a new name.
“One of my favourite things since we started is that somebody nicknamed the pub The Virchy. So I did a poll because I didn’t know whether it should be the Virty, which is probably more grammatically correct, or the Virchy.
“The punters voted with their feet and now it’s the Virchy which has to be right because it’s more Scouse.”
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