Community matters more than ever

Dennis and Linda Williams

Local retailers have always enjoyed stronger relationships with the communities they serve than any other channel – but coronavirus has inspired many retailers to up the ante even further. We look at two fantastic examples that other retailers can learn from.

The local retailing sector has always been envied for the strength of the relationships it enjoys with communities across Scotland, but there’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown an even sharper focus onto the way that communities and their local store support one another in the toughest of times.

There have been countless examples across Scotland of retailers demonstrating creativity, commitment and compassion. Far too many to try to cover in a single article – but we have chosen two particularly poignant examples that all local retailers can learn from and possibly even replicate in their own stores and communities.

Community hardship fund

Linda Williams – Premier Broadway Convenience Store, Edinburgh

What is the Hardship Fund and how did it come about?
It all started about a couple of months ago when it dawned on me that some of our customers were probably struggling to even feed themselves. I started putting out fresh sandwiches that our customers could help themselves to if they were struggling. I put out a Facebook post on it to let people know about it – and suddenly I started getting a flood of offers from people wanting to help by making contributions or paying for the bread or the ham or whatever.

What happened next?
We decided to start a Facebook page to let people donate if they wanted to so my daughter Sophie and I set up a collections page. We set our target at £300 and even then I wondered if that would look a bit cheeky and high. But within 40 minutes we’d hit the target and by the end of that day we’d hit £1,500. We’ve raised over £10,000 since then. We’ve been overwhelmed by how generous and kind people have been.

How do you use the money?
We’re very careful about how we do it and we done it in small amounts. It’s typically £20 or £30 worth of shopping or electricity or gas vouchers for customers that really need our help. And we definitely see it as help, not charity. We all need a little help sometimes. We’ve helped about 120 individuals and families so far.

How do customers request help?
Some people are happy to just ask us, others get referred to us by friends, neighbours or family and we’ve recently started getting more formal referrals from the Housing Department, the Social Work Department, the local schools and the local Health Visitor.

It’s surely an idea other retailers could replicate?
One hundred per cent. I don’t know why more retailers aren’t doing it but we’d be happy to help if anyone wants to find out more about how we did it so they can do it in their own stores.

Hybrid home delivery

Sean Boyd

Sean Boyd – Family Choice (Day-Today Elite), Hamilton

Tell us about how you’d adapted your home delivery service
I’m a delivery driver and I work for Omar Amir and his family in Hamilton. They have two Family Choice stores. I was in a bad state before I started the delivery job with Snappy Shopper. When I first got the opportunity, I used it to just get me out the house. That was at the start of this year but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Our store tried to remain open as long as it could but eventually had to close due to the situation. Omar just didn’t feel he could keep his staff and customers safe.

What happened then?
The store was closed for about a week, but we quickly realised that people saw the store as a lifeline. No one really knew how to react, so I continued to reach out to people during the time the store was closed and still did people’s shopping from other stores to keep me busy. Helping people was helping me.

So the store re-opened?
Yes. We realised how vital it was for the community. We have a lot of elderly and vulnerable people in the housing scheme that surrounds the store and many don’t have transport. There are no other stores nearby, so we quickly decided to re-open to make sure our customers had access to the vital products they needed.

And you created a new support group?
When our store opened back up I continued to support my community and created the Helping Hands Hamilton group. The support group does what it can to help everyone in the community, but particularly the elderly and the vulnerable. I deliver essentials to the elderly for free; I raise funds and donations to deliver essential boxes; and I organise donations of food and other items that we share for free to those who need a little help. Orders are placed through the Snappy Shopper app and delivered from the store.

So you’re combining your job with your group?
Exactly. And during the crisis, it’s become a really important service. People see Snappy Shopper as a lifeline, so I view it as the perfect solution because I’m able to mix the deliveries with the various support elements of my group, so it works. I can deliver a lot of orders per day – up to 350 a week – and the way I see it, that’s a lot of people and families that remained risk-free by staying at home.