Allpress Farms join #DoTheRightThing vaccination campaign
- Credit: Archant
Nothing changed on July 19 to divert Nick Allpress away from the success of ‘bubbles’ - which continue on his Cambridgeshire farm.
He introduced them among his full-time and seasonal workforce at the outset of the pandemic and they will remain until the threat of Covid-19 passes.
“We are not dropping our guard,” he says, and has keenly supported the #DoTheRightThing campaign of Cambridgeshire County Council.
Chatteris-based Nick has kept the crops planted, cultivated, picked, and packed and the challenges have been immense – especially as demand exploded for the likes of leeks and onions.
But back in March 2020, and indeed now, Nick believes putting his work force to the fore has been his biggest test, and one which gives him considerable pride.
“It was a massive challenge with the onset of lockdown,” he says. “We had a surge in demand and for us there was the immense pressure of getting people to work and then to work safely.”
With long shifts –including Christmas Day – the aim remained to get fresh produce from the fields, through the packing plant and onto retailers as speedily as possible.
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“It’s a full-on business,” he says, “and we have the ebbs and flows of demand to deal with”.
Allpress employs 100 full-time workers but that number doubles with seasonal workers throughout the winter.
He took some key decisions so that “everyone working here could feel safe”.
Protocols included screens, daily testing, staggered breaks, and managing safe travel to work for his employees.
On rigs in the field workers created ‘family bubbles’ of around 25 people and those arriving in vans were timed carefully to control numbers.
Those protocols remain, mainly because he feels it is not right to lift any of them yet but also because the workers ask for it and want it to remain.
He says: “We still have protocols in place, the only one we dropped is not testing people for temperature.
“Our field people still work in bubbles – that has come from them through the employee forum which now meets every week or fortnightly instead of monthly as before.”
He also understands the needs and thoughts of those workers who come from Poland, Lithuania, Romania and other European countries.
“There have been fears about taking the jab and often they have been misinterpreted,” says Nick. “We have put up a lot of posters, put a TV in the canteen and helped all we can to explain vaccines.
“Whether they take the jab is not just for themselves but for those they work with – and that has been part of our message.
“You can’t of course force anyone to take the jab, but the indications are that about 80 per cent of our workers have had least their first jab.
“It is still a choice one has to respect but through engagement and education we can influence their decision”.
He believes Covid is the issue of the moment “and there will no doubt be others to come. But we have all learnt from this – and the key thing we have kept our workers safe”.
Going forward, he recognises the strength of engaging more fully with his workers and the employee forum “once pushed slightly the back has been brought firmly to the front”.
His, too, is a business that must understandably be full on and for only a handful of office-based staff has there been the ability for them to work from home.
But as the UK slowly returns to normal, Nick sees no reason to jeopardise those prospects by hasty relaxing of protocols.
“We are a lucky business in many ways in not having had to close down during the pandemic,” he says.
“We have kept our workers safe and that has been a vital thing for us to do.”
#DoingTheRightThing is exactly what he hopes he has done and will continue with – and encouraging all those not yet vaccinated to remedy that remains a priority.