Covid Stories – Oxford Wood Recycling

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 Oxford Wood Recycling, after speaking to Richard Snow.

What was your immediate challenge and what did you do?

The immediate challenge was to think about communications – how would we keep in touch with the team, and support everyone? We knew that we had to lockdown, shut up shop and cease trading. So, at the beginning that was clear – though later on it became less clear!

We knew that there was a furlough scheme and so we put everybody eligible on furlough – 21 out of 24 employees. The only people who weren’t were myself, because somebody had to keep working, a recently appointed marketer and our recently appointed collections manger. With construction closed, there were no collections to do, but we flexed the collection manager’s time to support me in a managerial capacity, as we developed ways to keep in touch with our team.

Because we had our marketer, we were able to set up a communications plan to keep the team engaged. We immediately set up a WhatsApp group and worked out a ‘keeping in touch’ regime, everyone who was furloughed got a call from their line manager every week.

Then we had to very quickly think about any customers who needed to be informed or kept in touch with, and a couple of suppliers as well, where we place quite a lot of business – we were really proud of the way we kept in touch and communicated with them all.

Then it was all about the finances.

We had to consider the implications the pandemic was having financially in the short term, and at that time, of course, we could not comprehend at all what the medium-term looked like. We didn’t know how long it would go on for so we just ‘got on’ with the day-to-day as best we could.

From May 11th construction industry started to come back in dribs and drabs, so we were able to start collecting wood waste again. Then from June, we opened up the shop. We could have opened earlier, as DIY and Builders Merchants were deemed essential services, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that – it didn’t feel right on many levels so we didn’t, but we were running the collections.

What support did you access?

Co-op and Community Finance allowed us to freeze our loan payments so that was really good. Our landlord also gave us a three-month rental holiday, with no payback needed. We accessed £25k from the local authority plus a £50k business interruption grant, we used the furlough scheme, and we successfully applied for an emergency Awards For All grant too.

We had a really robust business plan from 2019 and had been – cautiously – forecasting growth. But unfortunately, we’ve had to review forecasts and it showed that we needed to lose the equivalent of three full-time staff members – this did mean that regrettably, we had to move to redundancies. We were able to work with an HR consultant on a process that was fair and open, and then in full consultation with staff, we did that, through a combination of reducing hours for a few people, a voluntary redundancy, leaving just one compulsory redundancy.

What are you doing now?

We are running collections and trading as close as we can to normal – we are trading slightly down on normal, but not that far away – producing amazing quality furniture from reclaimed wood. We’ve got some fantastic carpenters and the stuff they make really is stunning. We’ve also done some new development of the space and got some new machinery, so the workshop will be fully up and running in the new year – we can’t wait to get back to it!