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Tuesday 31st March 2020 - an update Countess Ablaze

Tuesday 31st March 2020 - an update

I thought I'd check in with you all after what has been a very eventful few weeks for us all with this pandemic. Life changed quick, huh?

I'll be honest, I'm still not comfortable opening up the online shop and sending out orders.

Businesses are having to make some tough decisions right now to stay afloat. I have a bricks and mortar studio and shop which instantly means it has to remain closed to the public, which is fine and a decision I made on March 13th prior to the lockdown. I made the decision to close online ordering on Monday 23rd March in the morning.


For me, there are two issues:

1. Staff safety

I'm fortunate that our studio is set over three floors and each floor is 10 metres in length so social distancing shouldn't be a problem at all. But we still have to travel there, all of us on public transport.

Last Wednesday, Haydn and I were in the studio to get the final online orders sent and despite a big sign in the window saying that we're not open to the public, and we have to legally open the ground floor shutters to adhere to fire safety regulations, we had people walking past seeing us "open" and taking photos as if to snitch on us. I get it, we look like we're operating as a shop, but can assure you we are NOT open.

The government has actually said that online businesses can operate as normal.

Personally, I have physical pre-existing conditions that whilst I don't fall into the very vulnerable category that needs to stay isolated for 12 weeks, I'm still at risk. I also now have started to show symptoms but given that there is no routine testing in the UK, it could be COVID-19, could be another virus knocking about, could be anxiety, could be psychosomatic. Who knows.

I have staff who also have their own set of complications such as living in student halls with a lot of other people, age, health, who they live with. I have one currently trapped in another country unable to leave.

If you know anything about me, and you know how important my business is to me and what it means (see the recent interview on Fruity Knitting's YouTube Channel) then I hope you'll understand that when I say that yarn isn't worth causing harm to others, that I'm coming from a good place. Of course, I want your money! I need to eat and pay bills too.

Given that limited cash is coming into the business right now, my staff have been furloughed so they can rest up, knit, play video games, do whatever, so we can access the Employee Retention Scheme that pays 80% of their wages and then I top up the remaining 20%. Staying home is literally the best thing to do on behalf of society right now.

As the director of a limited company, the government has made no provision for people in my position so I shall be taking a drastically reduced wage or none at all unless the government sorts out this problem. My priority is to keep cash in the business so we can keep going, which I'm 100% confident will happen, especially as provision is being made for limited companies (just not the directors). But I don't have a golden money tree and in the most bizarre way possible, thankful that I had a Brexit plan that could be implemented in this situation.


2. Safety of postal workers

I'm a big picture thinker and I'm sure some of my venting about this issue on Instagram has annoyed some other businesses. I'm a woman of principle and live and die by the sword which will one day be my downfall, and as I'm politically leftie and big-hearted, I cannot overlook an important issue.

The Communications Union is the trade union that represents Royal Mail employees. On Monday 30th March they wrote to Royal Mail and the UK government with concerns about the postal service in its current form with the suggestion that right now, it needs to be an Emergency Network to deliver essential goods.

I agree and obviously, as a business owner who relies upon Royal Mail, this puts my business in a difficult position as it means no money is coming in.

Here are some media links about the issues that Royal Mail employees are currently facing:

It's easy for us to make statements about all the things we're doing to limit exposure but we need to remember that there is a supply chain of people involved, from collections, sorting offices, delivery. I know a lot of Post Offices are asking for people to continue sending post, but they are often self-employed franchises themselves feeling the pinch (Royal Mail and the Post Office are two separate businesses).

Helping small businesses right now

I take no issue at all with small businesses who are doing the polar opposite to me. Everything has changed literally overnight and some will be in panic mode, some quite reactionary, some taking time to process. Nothing is black and white and we're only one week into a three-week lockdown (which could be extended?) 

As self-employed people or small limited companies, we're all doing our absolute fkn best and that best will look different for each of us. Big businesses putting their staff at risk can get in the sea, however.

Right now, I'm a huge advocate for digital gift cards so people can still support small businesses with cash flow and can shop at leisure another time. A lot of yarn shops are run on Shopify, who recently added digital gift cards to all their eCommerce plans. I fkn hate mini skein advent calendars but now is the perfect time to support your favourite dyer by signing yourself up for one, to receive towards the end of the year.

I am watching daily what is happening with the economy in general and Royal Mail, and will make the decision at some point to reopen the online shop, but I need to feel more confident that our postal workers are being looked after. We may implement a reduced service, reduced stock, or whatever, just to make things easier on us as a business and well, as people.

I know a lot of us have found the UK government's lockdown conditions to be confusing and contradictory. I'm just trying to do what I feel is right at this time, subject to change, as and when external conditions do.


Rock on!



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