Life in Lockdown - Ministry of Furniture

Life in lockdown was anything but quiet for our Premium Partners, Ministry of Furniture. We caught up with Managing Director, Graham Hirst to see how they were all doing:

2020 was going to be a massive year for us. We had a record order book going into the year, long before there was any suggestion of lockdown or Coronavirus – then everything came to a halt.”

“All of the sites we were delivering to, schools, colleges, workplaces, public sector developments were all locked down. So we couldn’t complete many projects which put a massive strain on our business. When we can’t deliver, we can’t invoice which of course hits your cash flow in a very unplanned and unpleasant way.  We had many production orders of furniture, signage and graphics already made but nowhere for it to go.  Our supply-chain was similarly compromised, even though several key worker sites  remained open , we couldn’t get that furniture in.”

Whilst their day to day business grinded to a halt, the team at Ministry of Furniture and Ministry Graphics continued to put the community at the heart of their business and offered a helping hand to support our local NHS.

“The defining moment for us was when I made a call to Wayne Hall at the Ospreys, who put me in touch with Wyn Evans from Neath Port Talbot College. We knew Llandarcy was being converted to a field hospital and knew there would be a need for furniture, fitting and equipment. Through further dialogue and introductions to NPT, the NHS and Andrew Scott Construction, we established a demand for protective poly-carbonate screens for every bay of every ward so nurses and carers could see bay to bay in the case of an emergency. We could see that poly-carbonate screens and clear acrylic screens was going to be a huge thing going forward - not just in the crisis but post Covid too.”

“It was absolutely sobering seeing the field hospitals. If you cast your mind back to the beginning of this crisis, we were all perhaps a little bit in denial about how bad things were going to be. On Easter Sunday we were invited down to take a look at Llandarcy. It felt like being in a movie, the roads were so quiet, there was nobody about, there were strict protocols going in and out of the site, people giving no eye contact, not speaking -  it was like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster.”  

“It was surreal watching gym equipment which you associate with good health and wellbeing being shipped out into big containers and being replaced by medical equipment you associate with emergency healthcare taking its place. I’ve heard people say  the field hospital investments were a huge waste of money.  I often think, thank goodness that was right, we were clearly planning for the absolute worst.”

As well as working tirelessly on contributing to the field hospitals, the team were quick to identify where their strengths were to adapt their products to assist their customers in returning to work safely:

“As opportunist as it seemed, we knew our business had to repurpose and adapt to be able to provide goods and services. It’s a little bittersweet because the last five years in workplace design  have all been the complete reverse to social distancing and we’ve promoted collaborative working, hot desking and touch down spacing which is completely counter-intuitive to staying two metres apart.”

“We’ve survived as a result from re-adapting.  it’s our responsibility to support the good health of our business and itself the livelihoods of the 35 people who work here and their families. They’ve all been protected to date without any compromise. In the case of furloughed workers, we topped up their wages to the full 100% because we felt strongly that we’re a community of people who worked really hard before this crisis and would still work really hard after it and we wanted to show our commitment to them for as long as we economically could.”

Ministry of Furniture emerged from Remploy Furniture following its closure by UK government in 2013. Remploy was then the UK’s largest employer of people with disabilities and the company still upholds its social values despite the barriers posed by lockdown.

The team have already produced a new range of products for a post Covid world, including protective screens for workplaces in a wide range of funky designs to show there is life after Covid.

“We’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve and like most businesses in the region there will be very difficult times ahead.  It’s going to be a rocky road to recovery which looks different everyday. Yes, it is a success story from the lockdown, and we know we’ve been lucky, but we’re only as good as our last month. We’re all in unchartered territories - as a society we’ve never been in this situation before and as a business owner I hope to see things starting to ease and develop safely.”

The team at Ministry have remained a close working family during the Coronavirus crisis, where Graham was quick to praise his workforce:

“They’re a brilliant bunch of people and part of the reason the business got through this situation. They’ve rolled up their sleeves, recognised what was going on and answered the call to arms. A few of us have lost loved ones to Covid 19, and there’s been some huge personal challenges amongst us, with our people juggling schooling, work and the uncertainty the pandemic brought us. . We know that’s been the same for the whole business community.

“It’s great to be back in work, working safely together. Whilst Teams and Zoom have been brilliant, there are sometimes when you just need to get together, see human beings and build those relationships back with people you’ve been estranged from for over 100 days.

One member of the Ministry team will be a familiar face amongst Ospreys supporters. Former number 8 Rob McCusker took up a post at the company after retiring from rugby at the end of the 2018/19 season and has brought his team spirit with him in his new role:

“He’s a force of nature and a gentle giant. He’s become a really good physical presence on site and a great face for the company. He’s got great ideas and is very committed. He brings a team ethic to the business which is absolutely on- brand for us.

“I’m sure moving into a new profession after being a professional sports person brings its own challenges, but we’re glad that we could work with Rob  and support him through the transition period as his professional Rugby career was winding down.”

Keep up to date with all the latest news from our Premium Partners by following them on Twitter or Facebook or visiting their website by clicking here