Last year we were extremely proud to announce Andy Reid MBE as our new brand ambassador. Andy embodies BrightHR’s brand values to be an expert, be brave, be open, and be an ally, and his story is one of astounding courage.
After sustaining life-changing injuries while serving as a soldier in Afghanistan in 2009, Andy rebuilt his life “a survivor, not a victim.” He now tours the world giving inspirational talks and runs several companies, and we’re honoured to be able to support the day-to-day running of his businesses with our BrightHR software.
This month we caught up with Andy to find talk about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and how he managed his café and through the UK lockdown.
Let’s go back to the start. Tell us about setting up your café and hiring your staff…
It was 2015 when we decided to give it a go. We’ve now got five members of staff in total, a mixture of full-time and part-time. We’ve also got a staff member with autism who’s working with us through a partnership with a local college.
She’s absolutely fantastic and is a really hard worker—probably works harder than the other girls who are there all of the time… don’t tell them I said that! I’d encourage employers not to dismiss anyone with autism or any disability, she’s such a valuable member of the team.
Hospitality closed on 20th March in the UK. How did you and your staff take the news?
It was pretty daunting at first, to be honest. As a business owner I was worried about how we were going to cover the costs of running the café without any income. And our staff were worried about how they were going to pay their rent and bills and everything else.
We just had to get ourselves into problem-solving mode, so me and the wife sat back and had a proper brainstorming session. We looked at the layout of the café and planned physical changes so we could start operating as a takeaway and delivery service in-line with the government guidelines. And once we realised we could make it work, we just got stuck in.
How did the take-away and delivery service go?
You know, it worked really well from the off. The local construction trade was just cracking on as normal and the workers came in every day for breakfast and lunch. There’s also a lot of elderly folk in our village and they were self-isolating, so we did a lot of deliveries to them. We even had relatives phoning up from London saying they had elderly parents living in the village and asking if “Andy and the café” could deliver them some essentials.
We felt a sense of obligation to our loyal customers and the elderly to keep the café running during this time so people had everything they needed, but it went two ways—all the locals really wanted to support our café, too. And that’s the nice thing about the café being in a village, I think. It’s quite different to being in the city. There’s a proper good community spirit.
How did you deal with the health & safety side of things?
We actually used a government grant to do a refurb of the café, so that kept us pretty busy. We changed the counter round and added new seating inside and outside. We knew the lockdown would come to an end eventually, so wanted to make sure we were in a good place for that to happen, but also to be able to keep serving people as a takeaway in the meantime.
With health & safety, it’s a matter of doing exactly what the government says in order to keep customers and our staff (who are going back to their families every day) safe. And we communicated all our COVID-secure changes to our staff, so they all felt really confident that they were working in a safe environment.
Did you continue your work as a motivational speaker during lockdown?
I did indeed—as you know, I came in to speak to you guys! But, of course, everything was cancelled during lockdown. I’m normally booked up as a motivational speaker a couple of nights a week, which means travelling and staying at hotels, so not having these in the diary meant I actually got to spend a lot more time at home with the family, which was great.
As lockdown’s lifted I’m getting back to normal, and came into Peninsula and BrightHR HQ in Manchester to speak to staff about returning to the workplace and managing anxiety after lockdown. And it’s really important to talk about that stuff, all the new health & safety measures can be a bit overwhelming, so everyone needs to support each other through this strange time.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the start of the UK lockdown?
I don’t think I’d do anything differently, actually. Yes, it was daunting at first, but it gave us the time to do the café refurb, and we also improved a few things that weren’t quite right before, like the flow of customers coming in and out, getting new equipment, adjusting processes to make jobs more efficient. We saw lockdown as an opportunity to look ahead and not stand still, and it gave us the chance to reinvent the business in the long-term.
What got you through the UK lockdown?
It has to be having the chance to spend more time with the family, hanging out with the kids. I became a bit more mindful of how I was living, more conscious of the environment and taking care of myself, and I did loads more exercise.
I also felt like it forced me to slow down and appreciate the small things. Often everyday life is so busy that you can forget to enjoy it, but lockdown helped me appreciate the small ordinary moments, which is really positive. And you’ve got to look at life that way. Those little moments are what it’s all about.