A year on from the coronavirus outbreak, Simon Cartledge, Plant Lead at our award-winning distillery in Warrington, G&J Distillers, tells us about how the team on site has coped with the challenges the year has thrown at them and what the post-pandemic future looks like for the G&J Distillers team.
Did the coronavirus take you by surprise and how did you respond?
I think it took us all by surprise. What started as an issue in Wuhan a long way from the UK spread rapidly and before we knew it had affected every country, including the UK. We were quick to get ourselves into a position where we understood the requirements and guidance from the Government; Paul Evans, who manages our Health & Safety, did a great job getting us up to speed. We put many things in place, the main ones being good social distancing in all areas, slow release disinfection of the facility every 6 weeks and disinfection of handrails and door handles four times a day.
Did you have to reduce production during the year as a result of COVID19?
We didn’t thankfully. With the social distancing and stringent cleaning standards that we put in place, we have been able to continue full production. In fact, not just our standard production, as following the closure of the on-trade, people were socialising at home much more which saw demand from our off-trade customers rocket, bringing extra demand to the facility, which we managed comfortably, thanks to the team’s great efforts and willingness to go the extra mile for our customers.
How did the outbreak affect your customers? Did their order patterns change and how did you cope with that?
Most of our off-trade customers were ordering significantly more stock than they usually do; as shelves were emptied during the initial panic buying we saw a year ago, they struggled to get stock from their depots into the store, such was the demand. It was a really challenging time for us, but we rose to that challenge. Our service has been outstanding throughout the pandemic, and as a result, we were voted No.1 Supplier in the category for Tesco recently, an achievement of which we’re extremely proud, especially this year.
How have you kept staff safe throughout the pandemic?
Staff safety has been our top priority throughout the pandemic, so wherever possible, staff who could work from home, have done so and only the essential staff needed to operate the facility have come to work on site. We have done many things to keep people safe and we have done this from the start in collaboration with our employees. We employed extra cleaning staff who have disinfected every door handle and handrail 4 times a day, separated the manufacturing units up so they all had separate canteen facilities, hired an external company to come in every 6 weeks to coat all surfaces with a slow-release disinfectant, put a 15 min gap in between the shift handover so there is no cross over of staff coming or going and ordered private test kits via BUPA expediting the results of the C-19 test. These, coupled with really strict social distancing, meant that we have been able to provide a safe environment for those colleagues coming on site throughout.
What’s the team spirit been like on site during the year?
It’s actually been really good! We had a couple of wobbles, especially at the start of the pandemic when the severity of the pandemic became apparent, which is only natural, but we have worked together with the employee forum staff to ensure they feel safe and are happy and to ensure they see how much their commitment and hard work is valued by everyone in the business. We have shown our gratitude to the team by giving every employee in the facility some free bottles during the year, as well as takeaway lunches and even breakfast on a Friday for the teams, as well as giving everyone in the facility a well-deserved bonus. We recognised long before the pandemic that people are our most important asset, we just went that extra mile to show them we cared about them in a time of great uncertainty.
What’s been your proudest achievement this year?
Every person on site has played their part and all the things we’ve put in place or asked the teams to do, they’ve done it. It is okay putting processes in place, but if people don’t work with you to make it happen, then I’m fairly sure the outcome would have been completely different, so, in a strange way, my proudest achievement is reflecting back on the teamwork, this has to be one of G&J’s proudest achievements, as well as my own.
Covid19 has forced many companies to reflect on how they operate and adapt. Has the pandemic resulted in any positive changes in how you operate?
From a manufacturing perspective, we have a well-run facility, the pandemic reinforced that if I’m honest so it will be more or less business as usual. For others in the business who have had to switch to working from home, I know coping with the difficulties this has presented, particularly during lockdowns, has been hard for some of them. Finding a balance between working from home and being on site I think will become the norm. There are positive benefits to this, people don’t have to commute to work, helping work life balance, CO2 green-house gas emissions have reduced significantly due to less traffic on the roads and if we can find a healthy balance, where people can socially interact when they need to and the business can continue to grow, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
As the UK edges nearer to the end of lockdown 3, how does the future look for the G&J team?
As I reflect on the last year, I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved as a team, especially in the face of the pandemic. It has tested us and we have responded brilliantly, showing great resilience. That’s in our nature to be honest at G&J Distillers – over the course of our 260 year history, we’ve encountered a lot of adversity, including fires that have destroyed the site, but thanks to our great camaraderie and team spirit, we always get through it and COVID19 has been no different. So as for the future, I think it looks really positive for us – we have great people, we have an efficient, well-run business and we’re going to do all we can to continue to keep delivering the products needed by our customers and ensure they see us as a trusted and indispensable spirits partner.