You’re still farming, we’re still selling…

22nd May 2020

Into week eight (!) here Richard Rankin shares his weekly diary whilst continuing to work from home … 

You’re still farming, we’re still selling…
COVID-19 has changed life as we knew it, for now.  It has been a disruptive force across the world, which is making each and every one of us examine our priorities and behaviours.  The situation, which is set to continue for a while longer, is creating its own set of anxieties so the news last week that a new Coronavirus antibody test has been found to be 100% accurate will be a huge step forwards towards returning to some sort of normality.

As Boris Johnson released his 50-page guidance document to advise on the stages to lift the lockdown, I digested this to understand, like many other business leaders, what this meant to H&H Group, our people and our customers.  There are many views, ranging from he’s done too much through to he’s not loosened it enough, and each of us experiences this differently depending on our circumstances, both personal and business.  However, the announcement of an extension to the furlough scheme came as welcome news to support this extended time period.

Three date-separated steps were put in place to first allow those unable to work from home to return and from the beginning of June to allow nurseries and schools to gradually welcome children back in certain key years.  The 4th July promised more for the economy with retail and service industries to return to work, as long as recommended safety approaches were in place.  Although this came as a relief to us all I am sure, there is also some worry, especially where children are involved, of returning to ‘normal’ too soon. The guidance was also delivered with a stark warning that it would only happen if sufficient progress was made.

Business-wise for us, the news that the property industry can re-open in England subject to strict social distancing guidelines was encouraging. Our property teams are busy gearing up to ensure we are ready to get things going again promptly and more importantly safely for our all staff, buyers and sellers.  Subject to safety restrictions, it is hopeful farm visits can be picked up again and valuations and sales can recommence for our land agency, hopefully towards the end of the month.  On the lettings side we haven’t really stopped for enquiries so that has been a very positive sign!  Linked so closely as it is to the economy, we would all like to see the property market return to business-as-usual as soon as possible.  Although admittedly I can understand how the media played on the arguable lack of clarity put forward – you can only see one member from another household, but you can show strangers around your house!?

Our livestock division Harrison & Hetherington is essentially sharing the message “you’re still farming so we’re still selling!”  Since the Government reviewed trading practices a couple of weeks ago, we have very much been back, close to full operations but with strict protective measures in place, which will remain constantly under review.  And in fact, we have Reeds making new signs and floor stickers to make this abundantly clear for all.

This week will be a busy one for our marts as our calendar of sales ramps up for a busy time of year.   Borderway Mart has a full week of both sheep and cattle sales and Lockerbie, Kirkby Stephen, St Boswells, Wooler, Broughton and Middleton-In-Teesdale marts all have a variety of sales lined up for a busy week.  This activity is re-assuring, even if we can’t quite return to the full buzz of the auction mart just yet.

As our marts, estate agencies and indeed everything else start to return, health and safety is very much at the forefront of our minds.  H&H Safety, H&H Insurance Brokers’ health and safety support service for rural businesses, is in-line with recent developments, offering businesses who are planning to re-open, some advice and useful tips to ensure that they have put reasonable measures in place to protect employees, suppliers and customers against the risk of COVID-19.  And having H&H Reeds there to manufacture the signage and screens is proving very useful.

Finally, whilst virus cases are dropping in London, and the ‘R’ value is lower across the board, it is certainly not as stable as the Government would like.  We are on a knife edge, whereby the wrong choices by individuals could see infection and death rates curve the graph in the wrong direction.

Personally, I have everything crossed that we continue to follow the guidelines in place to lower these numbers further, and this week my message continues to say, if you can’t stay home, please stay safe.