For our last blog post of 2020, I had planned a piece to celebrate the year’s best bits (Dolly Parton featured as well as some spectacular photos of burnt sourdough) but I’ve decided to be a little more honest…
12 nights ago, I sat on my own watching the Strictly Come Dancing final, crying into a mince pie.
After that day’s Tier 4 announcements I felt broken and yesterday’s news for Cumbria was the Glacé Cherry on a very shitty cake. This year has been horrendous – we’re living through something I never expected to and it’s taken its toll on us all. Some of us have lost loved ones, lost livelihoods, lost faith. It’s been a seemingly never-ending slog and often I’ve found it almost impossible to drag myself out of bed to face the day.
But as I watched the celebs strut their sequins whilst themselves reeling from the announcement, I felt a strange atmosphere settle on me. It was acceptance I think. It’s taken me a year to accept what is happening to us all – it finally hit home.
So I couldn’t bring myself to write 2020s Best Bits, because this year has been awful and honestly, I can’t wait to see the back of it. Instead, I wanted to share our story from this year, as well as expressing some deeply felt thanks…
Our year began well. As a newly opened business, we had begun to build a wonderful collection of regular customers – be it in our little Cafe, at our Deli counter or for our delicious Dry Aged Beef. There were still people who would pop in and say they hadn’t realised we were there, but we felt like our hard work in 2019 was beginning to pay off.
Then overnight, as it did for us all, everything changed.
The people stopped coming. That limbo between us all being told to avoid hospitality venues and the first lockdown was awful. We felt on the precipice of a very dark abyss, unsure of how or if we could navigate our way out.
We had begun back in February to prepare for the virus hitting – even though we knew the impact it was having in Asia and the rest of Europe, we still clung onto a hope that our plans wouldn’t be needed. But they were needed and lock down hit hard.
For those of you who don’t know, I live in Reading (just west of London) and had up until that point split my time between working in the shop in Penrith (and lodging above it) and working from home. My partner messaged me that week, having heard the announcement of a national lockdown, and told me now was the time to come home.
The decision was made that I would move home and deal with the admin for a few weeks (this was when we thought lockdown would be over by May) and Chris would move out of his home to live above the shop, and keep the place running. The drive home was surreal – it was late, the roads were bare and the police were practicing rolling road blocks on the motorway – that’s when things started to become eerily real.
But we were the lucky ones… we teamed up with other indies in Penrith, Starfruits and Another Weigh, to offer a home delivery service for the local area. It is no exaggeration to say that this saved us. Just a couple of weeks later, we were so busy that I needed to come back from Reading. With our team on furlough and Chris trying to prepare orders as well as answer a very busy phone, I couldn’t hide at home any longer.
I’m not ashamed to admit I was nervous about coming back up. Leaving my partner behind, unsure as to when I’d see him again, and heading back into survival mode. I moved into the flat above the shop with Chris and we entered a very tough period. The hours were long, we both missed our families dearly and there was still so much uncertainty.
Slowly but surely we found a vague new rhythm. But as we gradually reopened our counters and then the cafe, things started to get scary again. It was, and continues to be, a struggle for us to remain upbeat, to maintain committed to our values and to pivot once again whenever new rules are imposed.
I wanted to share this with you, not because you aren’t aware of the struggles many businesses are dealing with, but to show solidarity. Every single independent business I know is struggling and continues to do so, but are conducting themselves with phenomenal grace and dignity.
We’re exhausted trying to keep up with the constantly changing rules, the sleepless nights, the stress of ensuring our teams are safe and can pay their own bills, as well as worrying about our own. But to see the way our indie friends in Penrith, Cumbria and across the UK are dealing with the pandemic makes my heart burst with pride.
I know that everything isn’t going to immediately switch to ‘normal’ once the clock strikes midnight – in fact I think the toughest times are ahead for us – but I do know that with so many out there willing to support us, we will hopefully make it through.
So with all that in mind, it’s time to say some thank yous…
Thanks to the Chopping Block team – Jonny, Scott, Jackie, Cassie, Ethan, Lucie, Bethan, Robyn and Katie – for dealing with endless rule changes, on/off furlough, frustrated customers and sore hands.
Thank you to Chris, Ruth and the boys for your own sacrifices to keep the shop open no matter what, and protecting the jobs we love.
A huge cheers to every single person who has bought something from us this year. A few slices of bacon, a lump of cheese, a bloody huge turkey… we would have been screwed without you.
Thank you to those special customers who I feel I’ve grown to know – your kinds words pushing us on, your home baked treats, your support has moved us all deeply.
Thanks to Ella for helping us create an entirely new website back in March that would give our customers the information they needed quickly.
Thank you to all the independent food makers we work with. You kept our shelves stocked even when the supermarkets were bare and have continued to work so hard during the most uncertain times.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who works within the arts. You’ve been a tonic to the entire nation at a time when your industry has been, and continues to be, in a very difficult place.
Thank you to everyone who has continued to keep the wheels turning this year. Whether in healthcare or coffeeshops. Our hairdressers, couriers, teachers, retailers, bus drivers, parents – you’ve given us a sense of normality in a far from normal world.
And on an entirely personal note, thank you to my friends and family for being my absolute rock. I love you all dearly and miss you more than I thought I was capable of.
So this New Year’s Eve, I’ll be toasting to all the independent businesses out there and the kind hearted people who support us.
Screw you 2020 and here’s to a 2021 being crammed full of reunions, joy and an obscene amount of parties.
Big love all and stay safe, Sarah x