Putting people before profits

How one British packaging manufacturer has been dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Covid-19 has forced governments of all nations to make difficult decisions; world leaders were expected to balance human lives against the future financial security of their countries, and make the right call. No-one has escaped scrutiny over the decisions they’ve made to date.

Similarly, away from the world stage, business owners were faced with their own dilemmas. How could they play their part in keeping their staff and wider community safe, whilst still ensuring there would be jobs for staff to return to, when the threat of the virus began to subside? 

Made In Britain member Belmont Packaging met this dilemma head on, and made the toughest of choices.

“One of our core values has always been the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, the company is all about the people and if they are at risk then steps need to be taken to protect them; by remaining open during such at time of health uncertainty, this fundamental core value would have been undermined.  I was adamant a business could be rebuilt, people not so easily,” said owner-manager Kate Hulley. “We were determined to support the NHS, and protect our wider community by helping to minimise the impact of COVID-19. 

“The staff were, as always, supportive of whatever I chose to do as a business, but to me, their faces were saying something different. The right and ethical thing to do was to temporarily close.”

Belmont Packaging Ltd was very much in the minority on its decision to close within the industry. Kate said, “I am so thankful that Belmont Packaging was in a strong position to allow me to temporarily close the doors; I imagine companies had no choice but to keep going, despite the health risks. This decision could have been viewed as unwise, given we were essentially putting our debtors ledger at risk but for me we made brave, tough decisions at a time when it mattered most.  I would be lying if the decision to close did not make it uncomfortable for our customers, but ultimately, very few could argue with my rationale and I am incredibly grateful to our customers for supporting us on our decision and returning to us on reopening.”

When asked if, with hindsight, she still felt that closing was the right thing to do, Kate replied, “Absolutely. It was the right thing to do for our staff, their families, and our community. Personally, I felt it was right to follow government advice and stay at home to keep my family safe and so there was no way I would have expected the staff not to do the same. In my opinion, this would have been unethical to do.”

“This was an extraordinary measure born out of extraordinary circumstances, and it was a really difficult choice. Our loyal customers and suppliers were relying on us but we had to put staff safety first. The temporary closure gave us all time to assess, digest and understand the situation, to learn about how the virus spreads, and how our staff could be protected. It gave us time to plan and prepare safely whilst at home with our loved ones.  We were able to recommence manufacture on 27th April 2020, when the virus passed the peak.  When we reopened, it was a calmer, more productive environment in which to operate, much healthier, both mentally and physically.”

“It’s now important to think about the coming weeks and months,” Kate said. “Our country is still fighting against a pandemic which has already had a profound impact on our communities, and we will continue to do everything we can to help.

“We offered our support to the national effort on PPE supply and indeed our boxes helped transport safety equipment in the weeks following our reopening.”

“The whole process has been a rollercoaster of emotions and the most challenging aspect of my career to date (I’m sure they’ll be many more to come!), but ultimately, under these circumstances, I’m proud that when it came to it, we could live out our core values and behave in the very best interests of the business’s greatest asset by far: its people."

 

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