In these very difficult times I feel we should ensure we keep you all informed of the status of our business.

It would be fair to say that March 2020 was a month we will all remember for a very long time. It started out fairly calmly but rapidly descended into panic buying and essential restrictions on social interactions and the implementation of measures to increase the safety of people and manage the impact on severely stretched NHS resources.

The impact on our community has been significant. As we get a constant stream of information regarding progress of the Covid-19, the level of concern and anxiety has increased for those most vulnerable and those living with them. These people therefore have very sensibly isolated themselves at home to reduce the risk of infection to minimal levels.

Local businesses have been negatively impacted, with all those deemed non essential having to close, giving both financial hardship to those involved and increased social isolation for those who enjoyed using them.

The shop has been through a truly tumultuous time as we have responded to the tightening of people’s freedom of movement, self isolation needs, panic buying in supermarkets creating acute shortages of basic goods and the phenomena of social media directing people to stores such as ours.

We have lost over half of our volunteer population and two paid staff members to isolation needs. We have seen a very poor response from our main grocery and alcohol suppliers which has created enormous pressure on our buying team, one of whom had to temporarily isolate themselves.

We have had to introduce measures to ensure social distancing is observed while using our facilities and ensured our infection control measures were robust and appropriate.

We have had to limit the number of people able to be in the shop at any given time to enable us to meet those social distancing obligations. We do appreciate this causes queuing outside the shop at busy times but is an essential safety measure.

We have supplied hand sanitizer to be used by anyone entering the shop in order that no virus can be brought in that way and contaminate any surfaces from contact. Anyone showing signs of coughing or sneezing will unfortunately be asked to leave.

These measures will be constantly reviewed to determine whether they comply with government instructions.  

We have removed our £5 card transaction limit to help with reducing cash handling and hopefully the increase of the contactless limit to £45 will further reduce hand contact on the card reader. With this action and taking card payments over the phone for our increasing home delivery demand, our card handling charges will increase dramatically.

We were really struggling under the workload, lack of resources, lack of supplies and almost daily changes in guidance from UK Government.

We had designed and implemented a home delivery service, refining our process from early experience into something we are now doing well, to ensure our most vulnerable community members can access the items they need in a low risk manner.

To keep supplied with basic goods we had to implement daily runs to Booker Brighton, going in pairs, arriving before 6:45am to queue to get in for 7:30am opening. We are allowed in around 8am as not the first in the queue even then and use the first 10 minutes to grab as much of the very short supply goods we could before they were all gone. After that we spend time getting the more plentiful supply items before queuing for an hour to pay and get out. Often these trips have paid very poor dividends but we always get something our customers desperately need, so deemed worthwhile. 

Our paid staff shortfall has meant we are only able to operate our Post Office Counter to our contracted hours of 08:30am to 17:30pm Monday to Friday, 08:30 to 12:30 Saturday and closed on Sunday. The remaining team members are doing their very best to keep the counter open but we are having to do so on a best endeavours basis. That includes not being open during the mid day shop closure.

We have also had to limit our shop opening hours to 08:30 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 19:00 and had considered bringing that back to 18:00.

However; there are also many positives to come out of this.

Firstly, I would to thank all those people coming forward in response to our cry for help. As of today there are 14 new volunteers, 6 of whom are willing and able to work on the shop counter and have undergone their basic training. The others are able to support our orders to delivery team, cleaning team and restock shelves ahead of opening the store at 08:30.

In addition to that we have 2 Committee members with enough free time to support our in store team including on our PO Counter.

We are ready to reopen from 13:00 to 14:00 to give another hour of opportunity for people to get the things they need from us.

We have a few brave souls sharing the burden of trips to Booker Brighton on what has become a rota system. This comprises of existing and new volunteers including existing and retired Committee members.

Our Volunteer Coordinators have done a truly fantastic job of turning the offers of help into on the ground resources, doing what is needed to keep us going.

Many local producers and suppliers have been truly exceptional, providing us with extra bakery, milk, eggs etc. and where required we have volunteers collect from farms to keep us supplied when they are struggling to have the time to do so. Where we cannot get products from the usual sources we have had to look to other suppliers in order to maintain the availability of such goods, albeit different brands than we usually stock but some are even then are very hard to come by for many.

We have successfully sourced products in short supply, such as pasta and sauces from other suppliers and have a well stocked shop compared to most. There continue to be national shortages of items like rice and paracetamol but we get what we can, when we can.

We are hopeful our mid day closing will end this week as our ability to fully staff that period is in place.

The demand for home deliveries is growing daily and we have in place a fantastic team to meet the increasing workload. We will continue to reserve the time before 08:30 to process as much of those as possible, thoroughly clean and stack the shelves with goodies.

We are ensuring our staff are not in any way facing a negative financial impact as a result of having to self isolate.

Having ensured our financial position was strong ahead of this crisis we are able to proceed with confidence we will not find ourselves in difficulties even if we experience a negative impact on our income and an inevitable increases in our costs. We are working hard to ensure any such impact is minimised while ensuring we protect our staff from hardship themselves. 

The toilet roll panic appears to be over!

We have, through a huge effort on everyone’s part, weathered the storm of March 2020 and are well positioned to continue to meet whatever new challenges may come our way.

As always our entire focus is on serving the community to the very best of our ability and in these times especially those most in need. This is the only thing we’re doing which is business as usual.

Anyone wishing to join our fantastic team is encouraged to make contact and will respond quickly to ascertain what you can do to help serve the community.

Steve Smith

Chairman

Findon Village Collective Ltd   

3rd April 2020