The virus impact three weeks in. It is easy to forget what is going on in the world, when sitting in the Chiselwood design office. The sun is shining on the canal that leads off from this area. There are some people doing their daily walk with their dog and the music from Spotify plays a selection of chosen music to distract from the news on the radio. Of course it is only a distraction and itâ€™s not long before you are quickly reminded, maybe by an email giving the supportive advice as many are giving on Covid-19. In reflection what has happened in the few weeks we shut the doors to our workshop?
During the first week for Martin and Mel, the office was still running as usual. Calls still came from clients and suppliers as though nothing had really changed. There was confusion over the advice that the construction industry could continue. This raised a dilemma, as many clients were still requesting us to come and fit. It was a difficult enough decision for ourselves and I am sure many employers to close the workshops, without the mixed messages the government was giving. During the next few days, we pondered on whether we had been too quick to shut. Could we safely manage our team social distancing etc.
Things had to be practical. There are only a couple of toilets and one kitchen on site. It had become more difficult to ensure everyone was safe. Some of the team had vulnerable people around them and even if we continued fitting the projects, we would not be able to guarantee our team would be safe in someone elseâ€™s home. We knew we had made the right decision. Our team was to be furloughed, a term we had not really heard about before. We did not furlough ourselves as we knew we had plenty to do.
In the first couple of weeks we tried to continue the routine, starting work at the usual time, responding to emails, phone calls and working through our list. The biggest thing of course was the silence. No machines whirring, no one singing to the radio at the top of their voices or the banter and chat that was the norm in the workshops. No supplies being delivered, no team members interrupted our work with a query. For the first time in 25 of our 31 years, it was just Martin, Mel and the dog Geoffrey. This is how we had started in 1989, in a workshop in central Lincoln, only we had a different dog (Sam) back then.
Martin had a backlog of clients wanting projects, so he continues to work through each one. Drawings are forwarded on Dropbox and discussions through zoom enable the client to talk through things as they look at the designs.
Using technology to conduct a meeting is an interesting and helpful tool, not one we had utilised greatly before. I am sure that this will be something that will continue for the company in the future. Whilst visiting a client and site is essential for the design process, everyone is now using different platforms to conduct meetings and see their family and loved ones during lockdown. Starting to be comfortable as we are all beginning to do, using this technology to keep communicating, could in the future mean fewer visits and therefore more time in the office creating and designing. Some of our projects still had tradesmen working, so they continued to request working drawings and technical clarification.
The general office work, wages, bills still needed sorting and kept Mel busy. Daily communication with the team through WhatsApp has kept spirits lifted. There are bake off competitions, exchanges of recipes and conversations on what items are no longer available and where to get them! It is fantastic to have a team of people who truly care about each other. Noting if someone is feeling a bit down and finding inventive ways to support and chat. Initially a few comment, that this feels like a holiday, but as the days roll on, each and every one have reasons to feel this is not normal life or going to finish any time soon.
So we are in week three now, the phones are practically silent, emails less, however fortunately still plenty to do. There are still clients thinking about new projects, having time in their houses and reflecting on what areas in their homes that could be redesigned.
Financially we need to plan. Trying to forecast in a world crisis, never experienced before is interesting. Not having an end date, makes it difficult to budget confidently. Cash flow is king and preparing for the unknown future is paramount to any business survival. Basing budgets on the known is the best we can do at the moment.
We are thankful for the council tax relief. The process was easy and quick and is a great boost to pay wages until the HMRC portal opens, to claim back 80% team wages.
Applying for the virus business interruption loan is the next task. Speaking to the bank manager this seems to be a good option to support us for the year to come. It is obvious, as all the forms are downloaded and printed, that this is going to be a more onerous task. There is time on our hands and it will be a good safety net for twelve months should we need it.
Fortunately we have plenty of projects pending. We are hoping, once operational again, these will continue to happen. It is time to be mindful that supplies of material, appliances and various components come from different parts of the world. They may stall or be difficult to obtain initially. This may mean projects will take longer to complete. Thinking of contingencies, should we suffer from delays feels similar to our plans for Brexit. Maybe some of those actions could be applied now.
Trying to forward think in uncertain times, helps focus on what is important in life. At the moment all thoughts, whilst sitting looking out of the window, is to all the people affected by this virus.
Those physically suffering, those working to treat them, the key people that are working hard daily to ensure we are safe, fed and cared for.
Thursday evenings we stand clapping and making noise, to show how appreciative we all are for those on the front line.
As a company we are finding little ways to support our local community. We donated PPE from the workshop to LIVES ensuring they could keep treating people. https://lives.org.uk/We are starting little projects to plant up the village so people on their daily walk can enjoy colour. We are planning new things each day. Mel has enlisted on the volunteer program. Every little helps they say.
We continue to connect with our team, clients and suppliers. Itâ€™s time to be thankful, whilst some have had the virus, they are beginning to recover. We are all finding new routines. Noticing how beautiful spring is this year. Finding new skills and hobbies. All of which will help us to grow in the future.
Martin is beginning to find time on his creativity, even if it is only designing a water feature for the garden! Mel along with Becca’s (son Jack) girlfriends beautiful illustrations has written a childrenâ€™s book. This has been on the back burner for a year, supporting a mental heath module she has taken into primary schools. It was great to be speaking to the publisher getting the next stage to print.
We are not quite going into the office with long unkempt hair, in our pyjamas and slippers and even if we did there is no one here to see anyway! Tomorrow brings a new week and new challenges and we will continue creating for the new chapter in the Chiselwood book.
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