Northern Soul and People’s Powerhouse are continuing our partnership to share good new stories about businesses, people and communities coming together in the North of England during the COVID-19 crisis. As the country begins to loosen lockdown restrictions, we’re talking to Northerners doing excellent work across the region.

This week, we chat to Pilgrims Coffee House and Roastery, an ethically-minded roastery run by Vicky and Andrew Mundy which is located on the beautiful Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland. Their mission is to find top quality and ethically sourced coffee beans from around the world and put them into the hands of the UK’s coffee lovers. And it all began when Andrew experienced the café culture in Australia while he was on his travels.

NS: What inspired you to set up Pilgrims Coffee?

Andrew: We met in the catering industry when Victoria started her first job as a waitress. Pilgrims Coffee House was established in 2006 with very little experience (or sleep) but with an abundance of passion and drive. Inspired by a desire to provide honest homemade food using the best local ingredients, I began roasting coffee in 2014 in a yurt at the top of the garden. Initially, this was to provide the café with delicious, high-quality and sustainably sourced coffee. Since then, the roastery has flourished and now operates a successful online store and we supply wholesale coffee to many businesses in the North East.

NS: What was the initial response?

A: We’ve gone from strength to strength since we first opened our doors. We have some incredibly loyal customers who visit us most days and then tourists visiting the North East are often drawn to Holy Island. There aren’t many places where you have to plan your cup of coffee with the tides.

Pilgrims Coffee, Holy Island 5NS: What challenges have you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: We closed the cafe on March 23 and remained closed for just over three months. As with many in the hospitality industry we lost a significant amount of income during this time, but there was never any doubt that it was the right thing to do for us. Our customers and staff remain our number one priority and we didn’t reopen our doors until we were sure it was safe for us to do so. 

NS: How has the business/your community/industry been affected by the crisis?

A: Holy Island was closed to non-essential visitors from late March. The majority of island residents are defined as vulnerable, mostly due to their age. The council closed the public toilets and car parks. Visitor numbers dropped to zero and the island remained free of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Many islanders relished lockdown as the weather was exceptional and they had the island to themselves.

Easter would usually be a busy period for the café and for wholesale orders. However, this year was a different story. Luckily, online orders flourished as people searched for speciality coffee that could be delivered to their homes. With the delivery service it’s really just the same as we’ve always done, packing up and sending out online orders of freshly roasted coffee. Although online orders did go through the roof. We use DPD carbon neutral next day service, although sometimes the tide gets in the way and it can take a little longer. Throughout lockdown, Pilgrims Roastery remained operational and our roaster, Joe, continued roasting coffee to fulfil orders. When re-opening, we have had to change location of our café due to spacing regulations as our original café building is an old farmhouse and very cosy.

NS: And how have they come together?

A: Our loyal customers have been amazing and extremely patient, for example with delayed deliveries.

The Mundy FamilyNS: Have you been surprised by the reaction?

A: No, not really. As we are a tidal island, the community really had to come together to acquire provisions for each other. Old and new customers alike have all been wonderfully supportive as we navigated the lockdown.
NS: What does the loosening of lockdown restrictions mean to your business and how will you approach these new challenges?
A: Luckily, in 2019 we had finished construction of a new roastery building made from two repurposed shipping containers. Due to the restricted space in our centuries-old café building, we decided to open from the new roastery building. During lockdown we were able to reconfigure the building into two halves, one remaining the roastery and the other containing everything needed to run a takeaway café service. We reopened from this repurposed structure on July 3.

Initially, we operated solely serving takeaway coffee and cake. Visitor numbers started to steadily increase and as of early August we have been quite busy. Northumberland seems to be a real staycation hotspot this year. We are very fortunate to have quite a large outdoor space, so maintaining social distancing hasn’t proven to be too difficult. We have a one-way system, provide hand sanitiser and perform regular sanitation of all surfaces.

Pilgrims Coffee, Holy Island 5NS: What’s the most positive moment/thing you’ve experienced during the crisis?

A: The most positive experience through lockdown has been the opportunity to spend real quality time together as a family. From a business point of view, we have been thrilled to see the amount of people ordering our coffee to be delivered to their homes. 

NS: What does the ‘new normal’ mean to you/for Pilgrims Coffee?

A: COVID-19 has given us all a lot of time to reflect on what’s most important in life and a chance to redo things in a way we would not have considered before. Our ‘new normal’ is to enjoy the little things and I think that shows in our new style of service. We are really hopeful for the future, the roastery side is booming. Wholesale orders and the cafe are really picking up as Northumberland is a top staycation destination. We have also seen a big increase in interest towards speciality coffee. People seem to have really taken to brewing their own coffee during lockdown.

The People's