Tuesday 23rd March marks one year since Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic and the UK went in to lockdown.

Here, Rencraft’s MD John Stephens takes a moment to reflect on one of the most unprecedented 12 months in history.

Can you remember how you felt when lockdown was announced?
“It was such a surreal feeling. I’m not sure even now that the full enormity of what we were dealing with really dawned on me in that moment. I think you just keep going and dealing with things the best you can at any given time. Of course, I knew that we had to keep our staff and their families safe, so we stripped back our staff levels to the bare minimum, but I also knew that we couldn’t just stop completely, not without letting people down. I’ve never knowingly let a client down in almost 40 years of working here, so I was determined to keep the lines of communication open, to reassure our clients that we were still there for them and that we hadn’t just shut up shop and gone home.”

How did you manage not to let clients down in those first few weeks?
“The sense of camaraderie and team spirit here at Rencraft is amazing, and never more so than last year. While we initially placed the majority of our manufacturing team on temporary furlough, in order to give ourselves the breathing space we needed to assess the situation calmly, we were conscious that for a couple of clients in particular their projects were at a crucial stage. We couldn’t just leave them high and dry with an empty space where their kitchen should be. So we looked at how we could adapt and do things differently. Asking for sole access to the site in order to complete delivery and installation, for example. Those kind of things. Then, myself and my workshop manager worked together to complete production by ourselves. When I stop to think about it now it seems crazy, a team of 15 craftsmen reduced overnight to just the two of us, but that’s what we had to do and so we did it. Fortunately, between the pair of us we have enough skills and experience across all aspects of our workshop to enable us to get the jobs finished. Plus, by reducing down to two team members we were able to continue in as socially distanced and Covid-secure a manner as possible.”

What changes have you made since then?
“Once these projects were completed and safely delivered to site, we then set about adapting our workshop and re-writing our policies to ensure a Covid-secure environment for our team to return to. Socially distanced work benches, hand sanitising stations, staggered start times and so on. We reintroduced people slowly, building up to a skeleton crew of four key team members by mid-April who were able to continue production on those projects that were particularly time sensitive. Over the next few months, we gradually returned our whole team back to the workshop, and one year on we are pleased to be able to say that we haven’t lost a single member of our team due to lockdown related redundancy.”

What’s been the biggest lesson you have learned as a business owner during lockdown?
“I think lockdown really pressed upon me the importance of strong working relationships. With our staff, with our clients and with our partners and suppliers. We have always prided ourselves on building strong relationships and I think this has served us well during what could have been a very difficult year. I think the last few months have also highlighted the value of the service we offer as well. Like many kitchen designers, we don’t charge for initial consultations. One of the negatives of lockdown has been an increase in speculative clients who aren’t really ready to commit to a design just yet. They’re curious. They’ve got extra time on their hands. It’s all completely understandable but for us it’s taught us the importance of thoroughly vetting each enquiry, so we can focus our time and attention on those clients who genuinely appreciate it.”

What are you looking forward to in the months ahead?
“Like everyone, I’m just looking forward to a sense of normality. I know some things will still be different for a while. The environment we work in is changed now to include various Covid-secure elements, and we may continue to offer an appointment-only design service at our showrooms as we think clients feel reassured by the knowledge that they will be the only people at the premises at any one time. That said, I’m really looking forward to meeting those clients, and I’m also looking forward to showing people some of the changes we have made to our showrooms. We’ve taken the opportunity to redesign a number of our displays. I’m really proud of what we have achieved and I can’t wait to see how our clients react to some of these ideas. I’m really optimistic, actually. Which feels good. I feel that the future is bright and the next few months will be really exciting.”

If you’re planning a new kitchen and want to speak to one of our design team, please get in touch.