Positive news amidst the bleakness…

7th May 2020

The sixth weekly diary of homeworker, Richard Rankin Chief Executive of H&H Group as we approach another Bank Holiday

We are approaching another Bank Holiday, one that was, in better times, moved specifically to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day.  Of course the marking of this milestone, will be a more subdued event than was anticipated, but I still hope to see lots of red, white and blue decorations in recognition of its importance, and to provide some positive news to balance out the negativity of this pandemic.

On the subject of celebration, we must applaud Captain Tom, now an honorary Colonel and a regular topic in my daily emails, who, as he turned 100 years old this week, bagged a no.1 single and smashed his fund-raising target by ……….. well, by over thirty million miles! This fundraising effort really is the epitome of how what starts as a fun idea, can indeed grow and grow and grow, until it’s captured the hearts of every single one of us.  Bravo Tom!  Also some more good news sneaked its way out of Downing Street as Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds welcomed baby Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas.

As a shout out to the NHS, a moving minute’s silence took place on Tuesday at 11:00am to commemorate key workers who have died of the virus.  I encouraged all my team to take part and to reflect on all the amazing work being done and all the heroes behind masks and PPE fighting to keep the nation healthy.  As time goes on, it is also becoming a sad fact that more and more families are being affected by this awful pandemic and indeed, closer to home, we know this has touched a number of our own shareholders and as the impact truly starts to take its toll, our thoughts are with them all.

On the business front, a number of our teams are still home working like many of the population who are not in a frontline role doing essential support.  It struck me that this has left an awful lot of empty office and commercial buildings, which were once busy hives of activity.  This, of course, raises the question of how and where we will work in the future, is this going to change our working practices forever? And is this a bad thing or a good thing?

It also made me think about the risk of leaving these once managed spaces empty, especially in terms of insurance consequences.  What we don’t want to deal with is a crisis on top of a crisis and I know our Insurance arm, H&H Insurance Brokers, are always keen to emphasise how important it is to still keep these spaces checked to ensure that they are safe and secure ready for when we get back to business as usual.

One area of our business that has not been able to work from home, at least for a significant number of them, is Harrison & Hetherington, our livestock auctioneers.  Who were thankfully able to get back to a level of calendar normality in the sale ring this week.  I say ‘normality’ in that we are able to trade a more full sales calendar again, but obviously it looks and feels very different managing this within social distancing guidelines.  The sales going ahead in these conditions and their success depends greatly on regular communications with our customers and the team is very much rising to the challenge.  In fact, to support this, our specialist auctioneers held a Live Stream Q & A for our Spring Sale of Bull & Females this last week, which went exceptionally well.  Doing business this way is very much a departure from the long held traditional ways within the mart world, something I am very conscious of.  However not only team but the vendors and buyers have proved that we can all quickly adapt to a new ‘norm’ and protect our industry. Perhaps the legacy of Covid-19 will be, in the face of adversity, we found another and better way!

As the days and weeks go by it continues to surprise me, very pleasantly so I hasten to add, that H&H Reeds, the part of our business we initially predicted may have to temporarily close, has done anything but.  I have previously reported of leaflet orders for the Council and Police, and screens for retail outlets, and this week we have been producing signage for our NHS – a very proud moment.  Our signs team pulled out all the stops to manufacture signage items for our local NHS Trusts, including #COVID-19 warning signs, pull up banners and an acrylic freestanding protection screen for distribution across Cumbria and the newly created Sands Centre Hospital in Carlisle.

Another division that was hampered by the lock down is H&H Land & Estates as the property market was put on hold, however, we have continued to support our vendors from our virtual offices and surprisingly despite the pause, we have still had interest from buyers from throughout the UK.  I suspect that whilst people are home bound, they are re-evaluating their circumstances and putting plans in place for the future, which may indeed include a house move. So hopefully once the lock down is lifted, we will see a buoyant return to the housing market and I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that.

As we approach the Bank Holiday, our resolve and ingenuity turns towards ways to entertain ourselves at home.  These times have driven us to re-visit old skills and hobbies and even find ways for these to help the local communities and NHS, examples of which continue to stagger me as I hear stories of amazing feats coming in from around the business.  This takes us back to where this week’s diary started and epitomises how us Brits embrace the challenge in the face of adversity and this is the spirit we need to encapsulate right now as we strive for a while longer to stay home and stay safe.

Ends –