A few weeks ago, the thought of supermarket workers being the holy grail of society would be madness. Now, these are the key workers on the front line every day, stocking the shelves and making sure we have everything we need.
In three weeks, £1 Billion worth of extra food was bought by UK consumers amidst scenes of panic buying across the nation.
This has put immense pressure on the retail industry, already struggling under record levels of staff sickness with self-isolation becoming common-place.
With this, there has been a boom in the amount of jobs being advertised by retailers. I spoke to three supermarket workers who are now on the front line.
Alfie Clarke, 19 – Shelf Stacker at Tesco, Finchley.
Alfie finds it’s somewhat of an honour to be stacking the shelves at his local Tesco in Finchley, North London.
“My job was to stock toilet paper and kitchen rolls which I felt quite privileged to do.
Touching toilet paper that so many people would be buying,” said Alfie, normally a French and German student at university in Birmingham.
For Alfie, like many other newly recruited workers, getting the job was easy.
“I applied for it at midnight and got a call the next day at 10am for an interview. I went in at about 3pm and got the job there and then.”
“I thought I could do my bit and help those out who need it. Help those people out who can’t do their jobs.”
Alfie does have worries - he still does not know if he will pass this year of university.
Working in the supermarket is also stressful. He tells of late deliveries, problems in the supply chains and concerns about his health.
“I feel quite exposed, but I do try to stay as safe as I can to stop any possible transmission,” Alfie said.
Carl Marsh, 46 – Delivery Driver for Asda, Cardiff
Carl used to be a freelance journalist. Now he drives an Asda home delivery van around the streets of Cardiff.
“To go from a five star press trip to the Maldives to having no clients and then to this – it’s a big shock.”
“I then faced having no work and no clients,” Carl said, “I put an ad on Facebook and had about 120 comments in a few hours. One guy messaged me saying to go down to Asda.”
Shortly after this, Carl got the job and following a few days of training, he was in his own in the van, making deliveries across the region.
There is a clear sense of pride for Carl, helping those in need: “The majority of the customers I’ve been to over the last couple of days have been old people so they really needed the food. They’d been waiting for a few days as they were self-isolating.
The job however, is not without its risks. Carl and his family have made precautions to reduce the chances of them all getting the virus.
“I guess I worry but in the house I’m sleeping one room, my daughter in another and my wife in another room. I’m coming home and having a bath straightaway just in case one of us got ill,” Carl added.
Ruben Clark, 21 – Store Assistant for Tesco, Sheffield.
Ruben was one of many people in the hospitality industry furloughed from their post.
“I was working in a café but there was just no hours so now I work in Tesco,” Ruben said.
However, unlike the scenes in many stores across the UK, Ruben has noticed his store is not overly busy.
“It’s actually been quite quiet in store as it’s a city centre store and it’s not that residential. People are definitely reducing how much they are out.”
Despite, taking a temporary Tesco job, Ruben is unusually benefitting from the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
On top of the Tesco salary, he still receives 80% of his salary from his previous job in the café.
“It’s possible to continue working for one job and also receive the government grant for the other as I took the Tesco job before being furloughed because I was on a zero hours contract,” Ruben explained.
“It will help financially, but the main thing is I just wanted a routine and a purpose instead of being locked in all day,” Ruben added.
The last few weeks have been a big shock for these workers. Life has changed dramatically and these are people who are on the shop-floor and they are expected to carry on working, despite the chaos around them.
Whilst the bankers, office workers and even politicians are now working from home, Alfie, Carl and Ruben are still out there, making sure your supermarkets remain open.
Peter Moor is a freelance journalist and MA Journalism at Ulster University. During the Coronavirus crisis, he's back at his family home in Bedale, North Yorkshire and is currently writing for Yorkshire Live.