Collaborating Over COVID-19 Crisis – Shaftesbury Independent Traders Rise To Challenge

Shaftesbury shopkeepers are working hard to ensure that self-isolating customers in the town and surrounding villages receive vital supplies. Alfred met retailers determined to match the ease of supermarket online shopping with the personal service of independent retailers.

When national media have discussed the prospect of weeks or months of self-isolation, they’ve focused on how the major chains will fulfil orders. But it is the small, locally owned businesses that need our support to sail through these uncertain times. That’s why the Truckle Truck mobile cheese van owner Carolyn Hopkins has partnered with some of Shaftesbury’s local retail enterprises. “It’s partly survival, but things aren’t absolutely dire at the moment, as we’ve been led to believe by some of the big media,” said Carolyn.

Carolyn Hopkins in the Truckle Truck

Lucy Barfoot owns the plastic-free shop, Coconut & Cotton in Swan’s Yard. She says that she is coping with the economic instability although she’s had to postpone her expansion to a second store. “We did have plans to open in Salisbury in the coming months. That’s gone on pause for the moment,” said Lucy. “In terms of cash flow, we’re doing okay, and I don’t think I’ll have to let any staff go. As we are an online business, there are lots of other jobs we can be getting on with including writing blog posts. I’m feeling okay at the moment.”

Ross Townsend of Abbots Greengrocers has seen phone orders for his fruit, veg and dried goods increase so much, he has suspended in-store shopping. He’s now asking customers to call 853424 and then collect. This week, Ross reduced his rates to help struggling restaurants. Now they have been closed, his business will be affected, and Ross warns that there might be challenges in fulfilling some fruit and vegetable orders in the future. “(The wholesaler) where I buy from has mentioned that no drivers are coming out of Spain. I don’t know if it is going to dry up.” Salad vegetables are mainly sourced from that nation. “Root vegetables, cabbages and parsnips are fine. They’re from England,” he added.

Ross Townsend and Lucy Barfoot

Ross has joined Carolyn’s independent traders’ delivery service. “We are working together with several local shops just to bring independent businesses together and get good food to people who need it. We are not having minimum orders. It’s not about making money, it’s about looking after each other,” said Carolyn, who listed her partners.

“David at Shaftesbury Wines has quite a quick turnover of stock but he’s going to list things (for delivery) so people can self-isolate in comfort. Hopefully, we will be working with Abbots fairly soon. We’ve got the team at the High Street Bakery on board and they have fresh bread baked, or part-baked bread for the freezer,” said Carolyn.

Susan Grant, the manager of the High Street Bakery and Café, says that Carolyn can deliver everything from her bakery’s shelves and counter including eggs. She can supply some ready meals, too. “We have our stews, which we have frozen here in portions so if people can heat them themselves, we can sell them by the portion,” said Susan. Shaftesbury’s La Fleur de Lys restaurant is also providing ready meals. Their number is 853717.

One of Susan’s recent bestsellers has been flour from Stoates of Cann. “It’s been a bit of a surprise,” Susan said. “I had underestimated how many people had wanted to stock up. We have 25kg bags, but we’ve sold all of our stock at the moment and we are getting more in on Saturday. We have them in 1.5 kg and 8kg bags as well.”

Susan Grant at The High Street Bakery and Café

Carolyn says self-isolating shoppers, or any resident, can view her cheese and High Street Bakery products at Abbotts’ information should follow soon. “You can email me or phone me and place the order that way. I will deliver it on whichever day is next and you will have an invoice. You can pay by BACS (online bank transfer).” Carolyn says there is no charge for delivering to a defined area. “5 miles from Shaftesbury but I live in Gillingham so I can go a little bit further that way,” she said.

And she is keen to hear from other independent retailers who sell essential items so she can add their range to her website list and potentially deliver them with the other orders. “The current plan is for me to deliver on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. If demand warrants it, I’ll try and do it more often. I might have to enlist somebody to help me with that,” Carolyn said.

Lucy from Coconut & Cotton has seen a spike in sales of refill items, whether it’s liquid soaps, washing-up liquids or fabric conditioner. She will deliver those goods for free as long as you spend £10. She’s restricting this delivery to Shaftesbury and the neighbouring villages. Her customers can also buy toilet paper and she says her store visitors have behaved responsibly. “They are amazing. They are only buying what they need. They are not panicking. They are also being respectful about not going near other customers. We are giving people the option to shop solo if they want to. There’s no point crowding the shop when it is not needed,” Lucy said.

Lucy would prefer that people who have internet access make online orders through her website. “We have an e-commerce platform so anybody who can use online payments, we encourage that. We’d rather save phone calls for people who, for accessibility reasons, can’t use online,” Lucy said.

Community shops in the villages around Shaftesbury are also rising to the challenge of supporting residents who are self-isolating. Rick Attfield of the Fontmell Magna Shop and Post Office says he is arranging deliveries to people who live in the parish. “Essentially, what we are looking at is Fontmell Magna, Bedchester, Hargrove, Sutton Waldron, Compton Abbas and we will cover Ashmore if people need us to,” said Rick.

He has recruited helpers to take goods to villagers’ doorsteps. “We’ve got a list of ten volunteers. They will take deliveries to customers who are self-isolating and that includes collecting prescriptions. We’ve already had a chat with Lloyds and they are happy for us to do that. The customer sets up a prepaid account and they can do it over the phone. Once we have already set the initial account up all they have to do is phone us.”

The Semley Village Shop manager Lal Poynter is overseeing a similar arrangement. “People can open an account with us. We can take card details and set up an account with them over the phone, order what they need and deliver. That’s anywhere in the Semley area. They can email what they need, subject to availability,” she said.

Semley Village Shop

As the shop is volunteer-run, Lal wants to hear from more potential helpers. “A lot of our volunteers are over 70. Some people who presently work here are being advised to self-isolate. Others who don’t necessarily work in the shop but live in Semley have offered their services to do deliveries,” said Lal.

And Barney Mauleverer says that Motcombe Village Shop will deliver essentials, but only within the village’s boundaries. “There are 600 houses in the parish. To extend this beyond that would be quite difficult,” he said. “The shop is delivering to The Grange retirement flats in Motcombe. We will be making the best use of the supplies they can get their hands on and they will be kept open for as long as they are allowed to, along with the Post Office as well.”

Ludwell Stores owner Phil James says there are 28 volunteers ready to start deliveries next week. They are all communicating with each other using WhatsApp on their phones.

The incredible local response shows how small, independent businesses can react quickly to residents’ needs. Nobody knows how long the coronavirus crisis will last. But let’s hope the spirit of these volunteers and local entrepreneurs helps get our communities through these troubling times. “The outcome of all of this seems to be that our local communities, our small communities, are pulling together and discovering it’s rather wonderful to work like that,” said Carolyn.