Unprecedented, challenging, difficult......whatever name we put on it, there's no doubt that the last 3 months are like nothing most of us have ever seen before, thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
We thought it might be interesting to document our journey so far and share some of the goings on at the shop since this all started.
March 2020 started much like any other month, but on 11th March 2020, panic buying started in the supermarkets and suddenly people were coming to the shop in search of flour, pasta, baked beans...what was happening? It was like everyone was stocking up for a lockdown - who knew!
Things started to move very quickly after that.
Monday 16th March saw the shop beginning to promote our telephone ordering/delivery service for those who were advised to stay at home.
Two days later, we closed our eat in tea room facility, and the next day, the government instructed schools, restaurants and pubs to close.
At this point, the full realisation of the situation was beginning to hit, and there were lengthy daily discussions between the shop manager, and committee chair and vice chair as to how the shop would continue to operate while the world seemed to closing down all around us.
Sunday 22nd March and we decided to restrict customer access to the shop (social distancing is quite a challenge in our lovely little shop and we felt this was the best way to protect our staff, volunteers and customers).
The next day was the big "Stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives" announcement from No 10 (Boris even sent us all letters!) and another re-think was required.
Tuesday 14th March and we decided to reduce our opening hours. At this point, we had become to "go to" shop for many local residents and keeping up with demand was proving quite tiring!
The next few days would see us change our modus operandi completely: we closed the door, sent our volunteers home and moved to a telephone/delivery service. We also closed at the weekends and introduced a newspaper delivery service (thanks again to Oscar and Zosia for sterling work, delivering almost 300 newspapers a week for many weeks!).
Our manager Tracey has worked tirelessly since then, ably assisted by various volunteers, including her husband Stuart and the shop's Chair, Sarah. They've manned the phones, picked orders, packed boxes, put it all through the till, collected payments over the phone and made welfare phone calls to the most vulnerable in the community.
It seems that we're a pretty health bunch in Ewelme, as our fresh produce order has gone up 10x since lockdown started! We still can't get consistent supplies of many other items, but our amazing local suppliers have really come up trumps, and we've had plenty of fresh produce, eggs, honey, bread, milk, bacon/sausages, cheese, cold meats, cider and wine.
And that brings me to the key point of this blog post: the importance of local businesses.
The role of the community shop within the village is not just selling products; we are the focal point of the village, a place to catch up over a coffee and cake, get the gossip when you come to buy your daily milk/bread or just to see a friendly face.
We are still very much the focal point of the village, just doing it slightly differently. We've been able to help people avoid the queues to get into the supermarket and had much faster delivery times (thanks to our delivery volunteers providing same day delivery on our orders).
Our local suppliers have really come through for us, enabling us to remain open and offer a range of healthy, delicious and largely local food to keep us all going.
If you needed any more convincing, have a look at this article, which appeared on the Chilterns AONB this week (Ewelme Village Store gets a mention!): https://www.chilternsaonb.org/news/428/19/Keeping-it-local-at-the-Chilterns-community-shops.html
It's been hard work, but so heart warming to see so many people using the shop and supporting us through these uncharted waters. We're delighted to say that we're back to being open 7 days a week and having welcomed back our weekend team, we've also re-opened the takeaway part of our tea room (pop down for delicious homebaked cake, hot drinks and bacon rolls).
The door is open again so we can actually see and chat to our lovely customers, and our fresh produce stock room "market" is still very popular.
None of us really knows what the next few months will bring, but for now, Ewelme Village Store continues to do its best to serve the local community and adapt the changes all around us.
So, as you start to venture back out into the big wide world again, don't forget to keep supporting local, and visiting your local shop.