We’ve been incredibly impressed with the way so many Co-ops and Community businesses have managed through the Covid-19 situation and lockdown. The commitment to serving their communities and the resilience and ingenuity they have shown has been amazing!
We’ve spoken to a number of our clients about how they have managed – here we share the story of October Books, after speaking to Clare Diaper.
What was your immediate challenge?
The immediate challenge was two-fold. How to keep selling books and our range of food products safely and also out how to manage our events, which were normally held in our community space. This included our scheduled AGM and our author talks, which keep our community engaged.
What did you do?
We changed things up really quickly and started doing delivery, promoting online ordering, and we moved all our events online. We had a really successful and fun AGM, with many people using online tools for the first time. We also added new events, including a regular virtual get-together in the form of Bring Your Own book and our online author events have attracted a global audience from as far afield as America.
As a team, we got together virtually and decided who was going to be furloughed, as we could not afford to keep the shop fully open. We wanted to make sure that those who were continuing to work were happy while others were furloughed, and that everyone was working effectively and safely. We recognised that our food offer would be important, so we made sure we had good stocks and had to quickly set ourselves up to deliver. Our newest team member Jamie became a regular sight whizzing round the local area on his bike!
Through the second lockdown, everyone went onto on partial furlough, – we could keep the shop open, unlike other book-only bookshops who had to close, as we also sold food. This worked well and meant everyone stayed involved in the changes and progress, which worked better for the team.
What support did you access?
Ian [Rothwell, CCF Investment Manager] was so on the ball, offering a capital holiday during the lockdown. It was all very quick and organised easily – it was great to have that without having to do any chasing ourselves.
We had great support from Nathan Brown of Co-op Culture around the government grant and furlough schemes. We were on the Power to Change Community Business Trade up Programme, which had started just as lockdown happened and that proved to be a really fantastic support network during this year of continual changes. We also got involved with the Solent LEP Pay It Forward Crowdfunder, and we smashed our target of £2,000 raised, and so received matched funding from the LEP, which was fantastic.
What are you doing now?
We are continuing with online ordering and have greatly improved that – instead of customers just emailing in, all our non-book stock is now available on our own online store. We’ve also signed up to Bookshop.org and are curating lists of recommended reads so that even after lockdown, people can browse our shelves, especially as we approach Christmas.
Happily, we are still trading ok and have more people on board – we’ve two new committee members and a new staff member, too, who have all joined in the last few months.
What are your plans moving forward?
It feels like a really good time to reassess forward direction. The general situation won’t be clear until spring, but we have done, and are still doing a lot of contemplating and reassessing how to take us forward. Connecting in with other groups and organisations is a key part of this and we are doing this through a series of online local community events. We are also part of the City of Culture bid and we are growing our connections with the Universities and other related literary and creative organisations such as the CHAOS network and Gods House Tower.
Since August, we have been a Wellbeing at Work employer, looking after the team health and wellbeing and making sure we can cope with the continual changes that have been, and are still being, thrown at us. We are also reassessing some of our income streams – our regular university stall has disappeared, so we need to look at replacing that for February for the second semester
We’re also looking at how to reengage the community as we still can’t properly get together physically. For our December members meeting, we headed out into our community on a milk float and delivered mince pies to our members!