The last weeks have been marked by uncertainty, anxiety and isolation; but it has also marked out individuals and businesses. Fudge Kitchen MD, Sian Holt, and her team are one such exceptional example, whose support of their customers, community and particularly their staff has characteristically gone the extra mile.
“Our team are employed on the basis of being particularly fabulous,“ said Holt, “a more creative, talented, maverick bunch you’d be hard pushed to find. All 60+ of them are the lifeblood of Fudge Kitchen and we are very much a family, with some having worked with us for over 35years. Maintaining that sense of belonging, of unity while safeguarding their health, mental health and their jobs, as far as we are able, has been central to my planning during the coronavirus.”
This protective prioritising has translated into keeping communications regular, information transparent and silliness maximized, including: morale boosting, madcap weekly challenges for prizes, pitting the seven shops, production and management teams against each other, in crazy competitions that capitalise on the creativity, theatricality and famous game-on-ness of the Fudge Family. These have ranged from recreating famous works of art, home movie remakes of classic films and fudge-making themed, home made playdough sculptures. Look out for the results of their Caricature A Colleague Challenge on Instagram @fudgekitchen_uk, next week.
The team have had regular video sessions to check the mental and physical health, safety and well-being of staff. There are weekly newsletters from MD Sian Holt to all staff, furloughed or working, from Bath to Edinburgh, giving detailed updates on how the business is coping and sharing lockdown news from team members. Of course, it is a given that Fudge Kitchen has also taken every precaution to practically safeguard staff, in line with government guidelines and beyond.
The seven Fudge Kitchen shops were closed in advance of the government ruling, to protect staff; most of whom use public transport to get to work and all of whom work in small, historic shops, where social distancing is difficult. All staff who are not working on online orders have been furloughed, with employment retention a priority. Wherever possible they are being unfurloughed, which has included the Canterbury shop team and recently, the Bath shop team. Both shops have been given over to producing slab fudge for online sales, with staff wearing gloves and masks, strictly observing quarantine protocol, and working on separate floors, with separate access to kitchens.
Regular sanitising of touch points and hand washing are par for the course at FK, but these too have been ramped up. And typical that they have also sought out opportunities to support struggling and frontline communities, and to anticipate their customers’ changed needs, including:
•Donating all their remaining Caramels stock to hospitals local to their seven shops.
•An increased online 30% discount for Blue Light and Defence card holders.
•Reducing their minimum free 2-3 day delivery threshold from £75 to £25.
•Developing a special “Neighbourly” six-slice vegan or whipping cream fudge selection; every sale of which donates £1 to supporting local initiatives during these difficult times, through the Neighbourly platform.
•Developing single-slice boxes of slab fudge for corporate team morale boosters, to send to furloughed or home-working staff; and discounted vegan and dairy Comfort Bundles of favourite lines, to throw a fudge lifeline to someone in need of comfort.
The situation changes and is reacted to on a daily basis, but at the moment, York, Edinburgh, Oxford and Windsor shops remain closed, while Canterbury and Bath Fudge Kitchen shops are closed to the public, but are focused on producing online sales with production levels up between 650 –700% on normal capacity, with the Cambridge shop sending down the occasional pallet to maintain supplies. And they are all bracing themselves for a very busy National Fudge Day(16 June), which will again be dedicated to raising money for Fudge Kitchen’s annual charity of choice –this year the Air Ambulance Service–and for Father’s Day(21 June), with a new selection box.
The Fudge Kitchen production facility in Aylesham, where the wholesale range is produced, remains closed while government guidelines remain in place, but orders are starting to return and plans to reopen in safety, with new social distancing measures and a slimmed down production capability, are currently being put in place. This won’t extend to making Caramels or Brittle, however, which are impossible to hand make whilst observing social distancing; so these will sadly be unavailable for a while.