Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many businesses across the UK have gone above and beyond in rising to the many challenges presented by this unprecedented crisis and pitching in with the national effort.
As lockdown restrictions are being eased, reopening non-essential retail is the next step to restoring people's livelihoods and kick-starting the British economy.
Meet four UK businesses, a diverse quartet of GREAT Inspirations, who have not only done remarkable things for the community at large during lockdown, but who are also embracing a return to trading – inspiring shoppers to adjust to the new normal and ring the tills again.
When Sarah Lloyd Williams, pictured above, had to temporarily close her quirky little gift shop in Frome on 22 March, she had no idea what she was going to do with the time ahead.
At first, Lloyd Williams relished the opportunity to spend every day with her dog, Chester, taking him with other dogs out for walks. However, by nature, she is a hands-on person and soon realised she needed to find something to fill her time other than dog walking and cleaning.
She had found out that someone local to her had been having a hard time. “I knew this lady slightly and wondered if there was anything I could do to help," Lloyd Williams explains. "I didn’t feel that I knew her enough to contact her offering assistance, so instead I decided to leave a little gift on her doorstep.” She called it a Happy Bag, containing a copy of The Happy Newspaper (a quarterly newspaper by Emily Coxhead containing nothing but good news), a chocolate bar, bath bomb and a little note.
This good deed went down very well: the recipient messaged Lloyd Williams to ask if she could buy a Happy Bag for her friend. “I didn’t want any money," Lloyd Williams explains. "This was something small that I could do with items that I already sell in Figgins, so I delivered a Happy Bag to her friend and it went from there.”
She ended up delivering a number of bags in the local area and it led to doing a few other little things for people, such as picking up medicines, shopping and more dog walking.
For Lloyd Williams, this became a lovely way to connect with people that she barely knew, or had never met before, and it made lockdown much easier to navigate: “Giving away some Happy Bags certainly made me feel much happier. It’s a tiny thing, but sometimes that’s all it takes to make someone’s day,” she says.
Figgins has now reopened, with Lloyd Williams taking steps to make sure her shop is safer with a screen, hand sanitising stations, floor stickers and limiting the number of people in the shop at any one time. Lloyd Williams is also donating a Happy Bag every week to someone in the local community.
In the midst of a global pandemic, constrained by lockdown, a fledging gin brand was surrounded by alcohol with no bars open to supply. But reports of hand sanitiser shortages hit the headlines and gave the team an idea.
Sean Roche launched Aintree Gin in December 2019. An organic, craft spirit, it takes its name from its home in Merseyside – a village renowned for its famous racecourse which hosts the historic Grand National.
By spring, Roche and the team had introduced the gin to over 30 establishments around Liverpool. They were gearing up for the steeplechase, but lockdown put paid to their plans. “As soon as everything started to shut … all of our income went down to zero,” Roche says.
Realising online sales would be key, the team started building a website – then they had a brainwave. “News reports started to regularly mention how shortages of… alcohol-based sanitiser were putting NHS and care workers at risk,” says Roche. “We knew that because we were already using pure alcohol to make our gin, we could change our production line to make sanitiser.”
Their first batch was ready within weeks. Word got out and, soon after, they were inundated with requests from care homes, hospitals and more, Roche recalls.
Volunteers were recruited and more than 600 litres were donated in six weeks. But as supplies ran low, and with no money coming in, the enterprise became financially unviable. “We had two choices,” says Roche. “Stop – or start selling something.”
Opting for the latter, new containers were ordered and labels designed so the sanitiser could be sold online. They started offering a range of PPE products too, from face shields to masks. “This created a revenue stream that allowed us to continue,” adds Roche.
A PPE pop-up and free hand sanitiser stations at an Asda store followed. “We donated more than we made in profit over the period,” Roche admits.
Today, sales are going strong. As businesses look to reopen, many are turning to Aintree Gin for their sanitisation requirements – and also the brand’s primary product. They now aim to supply as many bars and restaurants as possible, and get into supermarkets as well.
“We are proud to have contributed towards an important cause,” Roche says of recent months. “And proud to [have been] part of the army of key workers putting the shifts in to keep things moving.”