It was Christmas every day at one of Hull’s leading companies as staff at its string of filling stations and convenience stores supported shoppers in the face of the lockdown shambles in the supermarkets.
Sewell on the Go saw demand for petrol plummet as people stayed at home and kept their cars in their driveways. But sales of groceries soared as residents relied on the neighbourhood network rather than risking a trip to bigger stores which were packed with people, but where shelves were empty.
The company revealed that fuel sales fell by 70 per cent at the start of lockdown and continue to show a drop of 33 per cent compared with typical trading volumes.
However grocery sales for May 2020 were 63 per cent above the Christmas figure for 2019, June was 40 per cent higher than Christmas and July exceeded the festive total by 29 per cent. Across the three-month period, grocery sales were on average 43 per cent above the Christmas levels.
Sewell Group, which employs around 500 people, was also busy across other areas of its business with its own frontline construction and facilities management staff supporting key workers in hospitals, health centres and schools.
Their efforts brought official recognition with a visit by the Lord Mayor of Hull Councillor Steve Wilson to present company Chairman Paul Sewell with a Civic Crown, which was dedicated to the staff.
Mr Sewell said: “The impact of lockdown across our 13 Sewell on the Go outlets was remarkable and during those early weeks and months of lockdown we sold more groceries than we do at Christmas.
“Our construction teams also played a key part by helping to keep such essential sites as Hull Royal Infirmary and Drax power station fully operational and the facilities management division worked hard to keep schools safe and ready to reopen and to help people at the Wilberforce Health Centre.
“I’m chuffed to receive this award from the Lord Mayor and I accept it on behalf of everybody in Sewell Group who has played a part in keeping the economy going, serving our customers and helping them at a particularly difficult time.”
All the Sewell on the Go stores took part in a “have it on us” initiative, with discounts and give-aways for emergency services and key workers. Product lists were changed to make sure customers could purchase all the items they would need to make a full, nutritious meal at home. Staff reported sales of loo rolls and alcohol increasing tenfold, and they stand ready to deal with a repeat scenario.
Deliveries were made to people who were shielding, and some who were afraid to go out received regular visits, with staff taking isolated customers on short walks to help rebuild their confidence.
Support for charities included funding fuel for Hull4Heroes, donating sleeping bags to homelessness groups and delivering supplies to food banks.
Megan Briede, a sales assistant at the Wyton Bar store in Bilton, said: “We listened to customers and we changed the stock to make sure they could get the things they needed. They were all really grateful and after a few weeks we heard that our store had recorded the biggest increase in sales.”
Emily Alsop, a member of the Sewell FM front-of-house team at the Wilberforce Health Centre in Story Street, Hull, said: “We are a bridge between the public and the surgeries but we also help people who just want information. We welcome all walks of life – homeless people, refugees and other people who don’t have English as a first language. A lot of people found things more difficult because they couldn’t get the usual access to their regular doctor and they couldn’t use a phone or the internet.”
The Lord Mayor introduced the Civic Crowns to recognise people who have gone the extra mile for to help others and who have made a difference to their community. His original plan was to have an Oscars-style event but because of Covid-19 he held a series of smaller presentations. Most of them have taken place in Hull Guildhall but with Sewell Group he headed to the company’s headquarters in Geneva Way and listened intently as team representatives received commemorative certificates.
He said: “With one presentation after another I kept thinking I didn’t know they did that! I just didn’t know how much the company and its people get involved with the community and how much they care about their customers. Each and every story was wonderful!”
Jo Chadwick, Manager of Sewell on the Go at Wyton Bar, said: “We all had to react so quickly. Screens, sanitisers, visors, masks, new cleaning regimes, social distancing signs, floor stickers – you name it. But everything just fell into place and we loved it.
“My team stepped up, as did all the others and we have never been overlooked. We have been well looked after. Things have quietened down now but we are still looking out for people who are shielding. Nobody knows what will happen in the coming weeks but we will be ready, as always.”
[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]