As I communicated last month, I feel we should ensure we keep you all informed of the status of our business and this update is a reflection on April 2020.

March was very challenging as we suffered a huge amount of change to cope with and April has not been without its difficulties either. However; we have learned a great deal and made changes to make the business operate more effectively. This has required a huge amount of work by everyone involved, a workload that could well last for the remainder of 2020. We are therefore needing to look to the coming months to better position ourselves to meet the inevitable demands.

As I informed you last month, we have lost over half of our volunteer population and two paid staff members to isolation needs. We had a working assumption this would be a 12 week problem but now we have to consider this will not be a short term issue for us but could well remain the case well into 2021. Our new volunteer recruits have done an amazing job of filling the gaps in our rota but we have to anticipate some of those at least may return to work and therefore can no longer support us in the way they do now.

We have additional paid staff members, who are students who had worked with us before filling a number of rota gaps but they too will return to their university courses when they restart.

Our Post Office counter operation is dependent on the two remaining staff members and support from Jo O’Dell from the Management Committee and Angus Charlton covering as best they can shifts not possible to staff through the usual resources. The result is us operating on a best endeavours basis and we ask everyone to be supportive of the fact we are open but not always able to do everything people want.

We will need to find additional volunteers willing to be till trained to provide backup for the current team. We will probably need to recruit another part time resource to be trained in PO duties to cover shifts and provide backup for absences of the current team members. It’s also possible some of us will be able to take some leave and cover for this will also be required.  

We have maintained our measures to control social distancing while using our facilities and ensured our infection control measures remain robust and appropriate. We continue to look at statements coming from UK Government and their medical advisors and will implement any changes required to follow instruction as potentially some of the current restrictions on movement and businesses opening may be relaxed.  

Irrespective of this,  the limits on the number of people able to be in the shop at any given time to enable us to meet those social distancing obligations will be in place for the foreseeable future. Should a different approach to this being advised by UK Government we will change this policy accordingly. The queuing this creates hasn’t been a significant problem although we have lived a bit of a charmed life with the weather being mostly dry. We do need to look ahead to when this is less likely. Unfortunately our plans to install a shop awning are on hold while the supplier pauses manufacturing but hopefully we can progress this soon. This could provide a small degree of shelter for one or two people queuing to get into the shop.

Our home delivery service has been overhauled and is being driven by Becky Fagan who oversees all order fulfilment, which has seen much welcome improvements in service.  We often get requests for items we don’t typically stock but wherever possible we obtain these from other channels (e.g. other suppliers, supermarkets) to ensure those needing deliveries get as much as we can possible supply. This is supported by a number of volunteers who will take out the deliveries once ready to go.

We have seen a steady increase in the uptake of our service and those isolating and/or vulnerable people using it are very appreciative of the efforts we go to meet their needs. As you can imagine, getting positive feedback is always welcome during particularly challenging times.

Keeping supplied with basic goods is not getting any easier. To some extent we are a victim of our own success where demand has increased by 50% which generally speaking we can match with supplies. This gives confidence to those using our shop that we will generally have what they need or can get it for them very soon if not. Our buyers are very busy indeed looking to source goods through a wider range of suppliers than we have typically required. We still visit cash and carry outlets at least 5 days a week and have significant deliveries every day also.

We are very active members of the Plunkett Foundation and frequent contributors to the Community Business Network where we all are sharing our experiences and challenges and providing help to resolve some of our peers problems we have relevant experience in. Through this I have been supporting various lobbying activities with regard to improving supply lines to rural stores and have been invited to discuss with DEFRA the challenges we are experiencing in getting a fair share of the distribution of produce in competition with the national supermarket chains. As a community of stores we have gone from representing just 3% of market share to now 13% but we still have little influence in government instruction to the industry, so we’re having to press our case week in week out for this to change.    

We have improved our shop opening hours by not having a mid day closure and opening up before 08:30 if the essential jobs needing doing before then complete ahead of that time.

We are supporting Findon Garden Centre by providing an outlet for their plants while they remain closed and have sold over £1,400 worth of goods on their behalf during April.

So, as it was in March, a huge effort on everyone’s part has enabled us to keep those using our services supplied to unprecedented levels of demand. The home baking trend continues unabated with subsequent demand for flour, sugar and yeast keeping us very busy indeed.

Our shop income is very strong but our cost of operation is considerably higher than usual. We are still making a modest profit as a result of increased revenue and if we see demand remain at these levels will continue to do so. We are seeing costs to us increases as a result of changes we’ve had to make in sourcing options but also product cost increases from manufacturers and distributors.

We will need to make some changes to our facilities to cope with storage of supplies issues that were already starting before the current environment exacerbated them.

We need to invest in more ambient, chilled and frozen storage and the Management Committee are working on solution to this as a matter of urgency. However in the current climate, getting such things organised takes longer than it would have done in the past.

We have received our small business grant from the local authority and  will be using some of those funds to make the capital investments required.

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. With the good will of all those involved we can continue to do so.

Along with all the other volunteers the Management Committee is working extra hard in keeping on top of the increased activity levels, keeping us supplied, handling the significant increase in managing the accounts workload as well as the usual day to day management of the business during this dynamically changing environment.

Our volunteer coordinators have done a magnificent job in keeping those wishing to help engaged to keep the shop staffed which typically requires their daily attention.

Our paid staff have had to put in a good few extra hours but we are now managing to reduce that back to reasonable levels. We see April as probably an example of how each month will be but also understand this stability is inevitably temporary and we will be reactive to unpredictable changes while being proactive in addressing those we can anticipate.  

As always I would encourage anyone wishing to join our fantastic team is to make contact and we will respond quickly to ascertain what you can do to help serve the community.

Steve Smith

Chairman

Findon Village Collective Ltd   

4th May 2020