General Manager’s Report 2019-20
Since last year’s AGM in August, the company has undergone some massive changes, not least, a move of premises. Despite all the changes, the management are determined to continue the good work of the organisation and help it to grow and most importantly, help those in the community that most need our help and support.
The easiest way to write this report is to split the year in 2, the first half pre Covid-19, then the second half, during Covid-19!
For the first part of the year, the school contracts were all running smoothly. The school contracts are now well established with the mainstream school runs being in year 2 of the 7-year contract, although the ALN run is relatively new, still being in its first year of a 3-year contract, it is running well. When tendering for the school routes, a conscious decision was made to pick routes that were going to be low maintenance (so to speak) and easy to deal with should any issues arise (i.e. driver illness). Such a circumstance arose late in the year when both Dave and Bill were taken ill. At the time we had spare capacity and were able to deal with these illnesses which both turned into long term illnesses.
Recycling was done at Antiques fair in September, a ram sale in September, SWKA dog show in October and Finally the Winter Fair in November. As usual , these events were busy but made a good profit for the organisation. There were a few issues at the winter fair, but these were raised in the post-show report to the organisers and hopefully will be resolved for any future events. I am really proud of the litter picking crew I have at these events, I have nothing but reports of praise for them when I speak to organisers, traders and members of the public. They all work hard in sometimes very difficult conditions, and rarely complain. Since working with Wye Valley reclamation, we have managed to increase our recycling rate and recycle or reuse 99% of waste collected.
The Shoppa Shuttle buses were ticking over quietly with the regular users continuing to support the service. We dropped Carmarthen completely as it was not supported at all. We were about to reintroduce Llandovery and Brecon and see how much support those runs were going to get, but we had to suspend the service before we had the opportunity.
I was really proud when in November we won the regional heat of the rural business awards for best rural social enterprise, charity or community project, and even prouder when we were announced as national runners-up at the final in February. We also won the best rural community transport scheme at the CTA awards in November. These awards prove to us that what we are doing makes a difference.
So, we come to March, and it is announced that we are going into a national lockdown to try and stop the spread of covid. This meant the immediate suspension of nearly all our services. All events cancelled, so no recycling services, all but essential journeys were not permitted, and all gatherings had to stop. Initially things were extremely worrying, but with various support grants and emergency funds being set up, we were able to secure some funding to enable us to continue supporting our members with prescription delivery service, essential shopping trips, hospital and other local primary care service journeys, takeaway meal delivery service and various other essential trips. As the lock-down restrictions began easing, we were receiving more and more demand for our services. From the beginning to the end of September 2020, we did 80 individual journeys, and that didn’t include the school transport which had resumed by this point. We have been exceptionally lucky through this entire pandemic to have the support of a few wonderful volunteers, they have gone above and beyond what is expected of them in these trying times! Our paid staff have all been retained to date, we did make use of the furlough scheme for 2 members of staff, but Powys County Council paid us 75% of the school contract daily rate, which enabled us to keep the school staff on retention ready for when the schools returned. All staff and volunteers have been very understanding and supportive in these difficult times and I know it has been difficult on them at times, but I am grateful for their patience and cooperation when things have not been straightforward.
The obvious other major event for the year has been the change in management and the relocation. I am not going to go into the details, but we are now very settled in at Lion Garage, the facilities we as staff, and the volunteers, have access to are far superior to what we have had previously. The move has meant we have had to streamline the fleet, and although it has been an expensive time, we have got rid of a lot of old vehicles that were costing a lot to run, and we are now replacing the remaining vehicles with newer and more cost-effective ones. We hope this will reduce our maintenance costs, fewer vehicles will mean a hopefully lower insurance bill, not to mention tax, etc. It will also do what I have been trying to do for a few years now, and improve our image!
It looks like this virus is going to be around for a while yet, and moving into next year we are likely to be faced with continuing restrictions, further lock downs and more uncertainty. With everything we have in place at the moment, I am confident that we can continue to move the company forward, albeit in a very different guise to what we are used to.
May I take this opportunity to say a personal thank you to the current directors for their help and support during this difficult time, they have put in an awful lot of work behind the scenes that goes largely unnoticed and without thanks. The support they have shown during these really difficult months, and the continued support, has really made a difference to me personally.
I really cannot to begin to thank everyone enough for the time, patience, understanding and support during the last 13 months. This has been a year like no other and hopefully one we will never have to see again! But it really has shown the best (and the worst) in people.
I have applied again for the rural business awards social enterprise category, so fingers crossed for the result in November for the regional, and hopefully February for the national result!
Update (16/11/2020): We’re on the shortlist of 6 organisations selected for the national award at the Rural Business Awards.