Sawbridgeworth business showcases the problems coronavirus has caused


BUSINESSES across Essex have begun to reopen following the lift on lockdown but the transition back to normality, hasn’t been a smooth one.
Many local businesses have been heavily affected by the virus, as they rely on the public to purchase products. One heavily hit industry is the Accommodation and Food Service industry. It was found that as of April 2020, over 80% of food businesses had closed or put on temporarily hold.
Mike’s of Sawbridgeworth Ltd is a local fruit and vegetable retailer located at Little Hadham. The company has been family run for over 40 years and is just one of many local businesses having to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Matthew Conquest is the proud owner of Mike’s after he took over from his father 20 years ago. Since then, Matthew has turned Mike’s into one of the largest local businesses in Sawbridgeworth supplying pubs, restaurants, care homes and schools, employing 22 local people, all operating as drivers, packers, buyers, and administration.
Talking about the effects of the pandemic on his business, Matthew said: “Throughout this pandemic we’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many delightful people, it’s truly been the light in dark for us.”
“In a retail such as food distribution, you really can’t cut any corners everything has to be done by the book. It was difficult in the beginning because for a period we were still able to supply after making changes, but then we had to stop entirely.”
The tier system has created even more confusion and unease as certain areas in that have been moved to tier three, must close all pubs and restaurants, two key facilities that Mike’s service is crucial for.
Matthew added: “It’s very difficult trying to manage orders at the moment, as some people have stopped booking orders in advance due to fears of going into tier three. It definitely feels like there is a communication issue.”
Mike’s manager Kieran Lynch has been working at the company for 8 years. Speaking about the changes Mike’s has had to make he stated: “No one is allowed in the unit and when they do a form has to be filled in ie: Name company. Wash stations on all doors or entrances are shut as not to invite people in.”
He also mentioned the changes that apply to almost every business: “All the rest of the changes are government standards ie: 6 feet apart, no touching, people with flu like symptoms don’t come to work.”
Mr Lynch also stated the effect the pandemic will have on businesses in the future saying: “On the businesses side of things, trade has never been worse this pandemic. This will close a lot of pubs and restaurants”
A customer of Mike’s – who did not wish to be named – stated: “This has been a very rough period for everyone. We’re definitely all on edge as you never know when you’ll need to find an alternative for this, then an alternative for that, so forth.”
The customer who has been ordering from Mike’s for many years said: “Most people don’t realise how a lot of businesses are linked. We rely on each other for supplies. If one place shuts down, it has a domino effect on three or four other businesses relying on it. We rely on Mike’s for our supplies, which we then use in our own product.”
Speaking about the tier system, the customer stated: “Its not as bad as a complete lockdown, however, it doesn’t make it any less stressful. With lockdown, you knew outright you weren’t able to do this or that, but with these tiers, it feels like ‘oh maybe I can do this, but what if I cant’, you end up making decisions with the next two to three weeks in mind and struggle to focus on what you need right now.”
The government has sworn to offer aid and protection to these local businesses, but for the time being, the sight of anything going back to normal, is a feeble one. Despite this, Mikes has found ways to continue business. At the beginning of lockdown, Mikes begun selling essential boxes, which allows customers to purchase small to large boxes full of fruit and vegetables. They’ve also introduced the popular small vegetable box which contains parsnips, carrots, a sweet potato, sprouts, a swede, potatoes (roasting), a red and white onion and broccoli for just £10.95. Mike’s have also introduced personalised boxes which allows customers to select specific items they wish to buy, and they’ll be carefully packed into boxes ready for collection. They have also improved the quality of their website, allowing customers to easily make their orders online.
If you wish to contact Mike’s, please email:​. Please note that they are unable to deliver at this time and are only available for collection. Collection begins at 9am to 1pm on weekdays, and 9am to 12am on Saturdays.

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Kian Foster

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