As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the nation, Hilary Allen decided she wanted to make a difference by supporting essential workers during the challenging times.
“I have always admired how hard our retail heroes work and their commitment to the job, as well as their friendliness and customer skills,” Allen said.
“To be able to go into store and support them in any way during this especially difficult time is the least I can do.”
As a member of Central England Co-op’s Southern Membership and Community Council (MCC), Allen didn’t hesitate when she decided to volunteer at her local Central England Co-operative store in Groby, Leicestershire.
“I wanted to immediately stand side by side with our key workers throughout the community, as I was fortunate enough not to come under the vulnerable health and age categories,” she told Retail Gazette.
Community has always been important to Allen. Prior to lockdown, she was happy to be involved in community events and groups run by the Central England Co-operative.
“It was an ideal opportunity to still show my support and do what I can”
Yet like much of the country, Allen is also experiencing challenges, such as missing out on celebrations and spending time with family and friends.
“It’s been difficult learning to keep at least 2 metres apart, your natural reaction is to move towards someone when you are talking to them,” she said.
“When you take a step back, or cross the road to avoid people, it feels quite unfriendly and yet at the same time it feels like you are doing a good deed.”
While there have been many reports of retail workers suffering abuse during the pandemic, Allen stated she was incredibly lucky.
“The majority of our customers are not only friendly and understanding of all the measures that we have been put in place, but they are also very grateful that we are doing our best to protect them,” she told Retail Gazette.
Hilary has thrown herself into her new temporary role, supporting the team by working around the clock to serve their local community.
“I have restocked shelves, price checked, date checked, helped to set up the new plan on the drinks aisle, helped with deliveries, deep cleaned shelving, and been on meet and greet duty with a friendly smile, as well as ensuring customer numbers within the store are limited to maintain social distancing for both shoppers and staff,” she said.
Like the majority of grocery stores, Central Engand Co-op has put social distancing measures in place to help keep its workers and customers safe. This includes customers being urged to pay with card and special markings to showcase two-metre safe distances while queueing.
“It has been a privilege to be able to support the Retail Heroes at Groby Store”
Allen gave some advice for those thinking of how they can help out in their local community during these uncertain times.
“I am shopping for two households who are self isolating for 12 weeks, so that is a really practical way of helping out,” she said.
“However, for some of our customers, their daily trip to the Co-op is often the only time they see anybody else so a cheery smile and hello, which can seem a small thing for us, means a lot and brightens the day.
“My advice would be that it doesn’t have to be a major deed – every small bit of kindness makes a big difference to someone.”
Throughout this time Allen said that despite many feeling unsure and unsafe amid the pandemic, the biggest thing she has learnt is the feeling of community.
“It’s amazing to see how supportive people are, how we are coming to realise what really matters, and that whatever is happening we need to make the best of it,” she said.