Best friends who started a virtual pub quiz to beat boredom in lockdown and ended up with a worldwide following have been rewarded on Saturday Night Takeaway.
Travel consultant Lorraine Robinson and sales rep Neil Greenwood, who are both from Oldham, created a close online community through The Virtual Tavern on Facebook last March.
The aim was to help support people’s mental health and those suffering from loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic.
Members have enjoyed quizzes, karaoke, comedy and theme nights, bingo and live acts for free.
The tavern also has a singles lounge, a sports bar, student union and a Rainbow Room for the LGBT+ community.
Lorraine and Neil were stunned when they ended up as a surprise special guests on the final of Saturday Night Takeaway.
Thinking they were at ITV to film a documentary about loneliness, they were amazed when hosts Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly brought them into their studio to give their tavern members chance to say thank you.
Dec explained: “Back in March 2020 they started a virtual pub quiz on Facebook and they called it The Virtual Tavern but it quickly became much more than a pub quiz. It attracted more than 40,000 members worldwide.
“Its become an invaluable support network for everyone who uses it.”
Using a garden shed as their tavern, the pair introduced membership rules of no swearing, no football and no religion ‘because they’re quite divisive.’
“We thought it would be a few of our friends in there and that would be it,” explained Neil.
And Ant added: “But it grew, and grew and grew.”
The ITV entertainment show heard from regulars whose lives have been turned around by Lorraine and Neil and the tavern community, including a couple who lost everything in fire.
They said the kindness and donations from everyone at the tavern has been ‘overwhelming’ and helped them to stay positive.
“It’s a virtual tavern but it’s got real people in it,” they said.
The show gave regulars the chance to win a holiday, and Saturday Night Takeaway gave Lorraine and Neil their dream of taking their tavern on tour when they won a camper van.
Lorraine said: “I always said I wanted it to come to life.”
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The congratulations came pouring in.
“Aw you so deserve all the prizes, what lovely people you are,” said one viewer on Twitter.
“Congratulations on your beautiful VW Camper,” said another.
“Congratulations on the van so deserved by a great couple,” said another well-wisher.
“Awww that’s amazing what they’ve done with creating ‘The Tavern”” tweeted another.
Seems like a 24/7 activity. Keep going guys. Hearts of gold.”
To join The Virtual Tavern visit facebook.com/groups/TheVirtualTavern.