To our dear and valued customers and community,
We hope that you are doing ok and coping as well as you can in these unusual and uncertain times. We miss you all very much and wanted to find a way to keep in touch, so we decided to finally put our blog to good use! We will be posting a series of ‘Letters from Lockdown’ to share what we, on a individual and personal level, are up to while we are closed. And keep an eye on our instagram, for weekly takeovers from members of the co-op!
But first up, we realise that some of you might be wondering why we decided to close Leeds Bread Co-op, why we didn’t keep the shop open for collections, or even switch to a home delivery service in order to get you the delicious bread you and we are all craving! We know, and really appreciate, that many of you would have happily tried to support us in any way possible to help us to continue making and supplying bread. And believe us, we dearly wish we were able to! So in the spirit of transparency, we thought it might be useful to share the reasons for our decisions with you by giving you a little bit more insight into how our small business operates. Oooh, and maybe grab yourself a cuppa as it’s a bit of a long one!
There are six Directors (or members in co-op talk!) of Leeds Bread Co-op who are entrusted with making all the strategic decisions for the business. On the days following the announcement of the lockdown we had some very long, very hard conversations over virtual platforms about how best to proceed. We had to make some pretty big decisions in the absence of much fact based evidence coupled with some pretty unclear policy from government. Something which we are sure many of you also found yourselves having to do. For us the key issues that influenced our decision-making can be summarised as follow:
Health and safety of our staff
First and foremost in our decision making was the responsibility we feel towards all our staff and taking the right measures to enable people to work safely. If you have ever visited us you will know that our bakery is a small but very busy place! On any given day there might be at least four bakers in on shift together, working in close proximity to each other, touching lots of equipment and surfaces multiple times throughout the shift. There are also usually two delivery drivers on most mornings, touching many of the things the bakers have also touched in order to get the vans packed and out to our lovely customers as soon as possible. We also have at least a couple of people in the office each day too making sure all those deliveries go smoothly from the very first moment an order is placed, and generally ensuring all aspects of the bakery are run smoothly and effectively behind the scenes to keep all our lovely customers happy!
Ultimately we felt that, despite our already extensive health and safety protocols, it was an impossible task to keep producing on the scale that we were doing and ensure our staff could observe social distancing. We did consider reducing our production levels but ultimately felt that operating with a highly stressed skeleton workforce, desperately hoping that no-one gets sick, was not in line with our values and principles providing an ethical and enjoyable workplace for our employees.
Financial health of the business
Before the lockdown, 80% of our business came from selling bread and cakes wholesale to many wonderful cafes, restaurants and shops in Leeds and surrounding areas. The other 20% coming from our weekly farmers markets, selling from our bakery and from bread subscriptions. We support twenty permanent staff and ten casual staff at present, all of whom we wanted to protect and support as best we could during this pandemic. With our income from cafes, restaurants and shops falling away, we would not have been able to pay our current cohort of staff even if retail sales had increased dramatically.
We did consider the option of reducing our staff pool, furloughing some of them and having a skeleton staff functioning instead but we didn’t feel that this option allowed us to take into account potential sickness and the unknown of who and when and for how long would people be unwell. How would we cope if three of our skeleton staff were off sick at the same time? It felt more responsible to prioritise protecting the health and job security of our workforce, whilst ensuring we had the funds and plan in place to hopefully open the business again in the future.
Health of our community
Given the instruction from the government that everyone should stay at home apart from essential shopping trips, we had to ask ourselves if encouraging individuals to make a special trip to us specifically for bread could really be deemed as essential, or if we would be encouraging more collective responsibility by closing and not being an option.
We talked about bringing in other essential local produce like eggs, milk, butter (and vegan products too!) but we just didn’t feel equipped for this, especially with an uncertainty of supply in areas we are not experienced in. We discussed the possibility of doing home delivery but with such limited capacity we did not think we could manage such a shift in our business model and still come out standing.
So, taking all these things into account (along with the fact that at the time of making this decision two of six of us were unwell and in quarantine so we were well aware of the very real possibility of being short-staffed in a very speedy amount of time), we made the very hard and unpleasant decision to close. Our staff were amazingly supportive and we try to stay in touch during this time, ensuring everyone is well and not feeling too anxious in the face of things.
Almost everyone in the business is furloughed so Leeds Bread Co-op remains closed for business for now. As Directors we meet weekly to ensure we can keep everyone paid and our beloved bakery can stay afloat during these difficult times. If the government funds for furloughed workers don’t get released before the end of this month we will need a loan to aid our cash flow, so we are looking into various options and getting support from lots of amazing businesses that exist to support co-ops and small businesses. Generally we are trying to stay motivated and purposeful with our everyday joyful labour having been removed from our lives.
Bread For Emergency Food Packages
As you may be aware there are many charities and organisations based around Leeds who are supplying food packages to the many vulnerable people in our communities. We have been in contact with some of them and are aware that many are struggling to get enough food together for these packages, so we are currently exploring the logistics of doing a voluntary bake a few times a week in order to donate loaves of good bread to them. Although we would have a limited bake capacity and need to find a way to cover the costs of the ingredients as we don’t have enough in our reserves to be able to cover this as yet, we feel this is an important way we can contribute to our community so we are determined to make it work! We will keep you posted on developments, and how you may be able to help, through our social media accounts so please do keep an eye out. In addition if you have thoughts or suggestions on this we welcome you to get in touch via our Facebook, twitter or instagram.
Finally, if any of our subscribers didn’t receive the e-mail we sent on 24th March about cancelling your standing orders to us, please accept our apologies as we know that money is tight right now. We will deal with any discrepancies as soon as we are able to reopen the bakery.
So if you’ve made it to this point, we thank you for reading this far and hope that it is useful to know more about our decisions! We are happy to know that there are a few bakeries across the UK that are managing to keep going – we applaud you and hope you are coping and staying healthy – and to those who tried and found it overwhelming and are now closed, we totally understand your position! We are all just doing the best that we can to get through.
Thank you all for your continued support, we hope you are finding your way through, we send our love, respect and gratitude to all key workers and those of you who are working for essential services or otherwise, and we really really look forward to being able to bake for you all again soon.
Take good care and stay safe,
Leeds Bread Co-op