AluK has begun a partial reopening of its Chepstow manufacturing plant, as it looks to meet demand from all those customers striving to fulfil commercial contracts.
Having created and implemented a new Covid-19 Safe Working policy, Managing Director Russell Yates says he is confident that AluK can support those customers, while at the same time ensuring the safety of its own employees.
He says: “Much of the industry is starting to recognise that, until there is an effective treatment for the virus or even a vaccine, we have to identify safe routes back to work which are in line with the government’s restrictions. According to government officials speaking at the daily briefings, these are likely to be with us in some form for quite some time yet, and possibly until the end of the year.
“Public Health England has however already confirmed that construction sites can continue to operate with adequate PPE and strict social distancing and, while only essential maintenance work is currently allowed in people’s homes, it is possible that we will see some relaxation of those rules in the coming weeks when the current three week lockdown is reviewed again.
“For us, and I think for many of our customers, we are looking now at a safe and phased return for our staff which may be costly in the short term, but will allow the business to adapt and test the new safe working procedures as we ramp up production in line with the future demand.
“Businesses will also have other pressures that they need to consider when restarting, on top of the safety of their staff, demand levels and cashflow status. The decision for the business to close was as simple as a ‘lights off’ situation, and it would be naïve to think that it is a simple ‘lights on’ return to production. Other challenges will be to adapt to the mix of product that will be demanded. For an industry built on high volume, standard product production, I think it’s likely that there will be a shift to low volume, high mix (non-standard) product once the market starts to move again.
“For us, a phased return is a way to manage and service this change in the best way possible and I think fabricators who can also adapt to that will be the ones that succeed quicker.
“AluK is looking to play a key role in supporting our customers with all of the challenges they face, which is why we’re starting to share our operational experience with customers now and offering support and advice on everything from business operations to marketing to finance.”
AluK currently has a skeleton team working in its plant as it embeds its new Covid-19 policy, which includes new routine protocols, mandatory PPE and full compliance with social distancing guidelines throughout the factory and communal spaces.
Graeme Bainbridge, AluK’s Operations Director, says that it will be a long time until factories can return to normal but that creating a controlled and disciplined ‘new normal’ is the first key step. He explains: “A phased restart will give businesses the chance to rearrange their factories and train their staff so that new safe working practices become firmly embedded in the way that they are now in supermarkets and even in some DIY stores. There is no room for error in any of this though, which is why we think sharing the knowledge and experience we have acquired with our customers at this point will be so important for them in the future.”
As well as advising on Covid-19 Safe Working policies, AluK is going as far as providing downloadable workplace posters and social distancing floor stickers for customers to give them some tools ready for when they can restart safely.
This is part of a whole package of support materials contained within a new customer website which the company has created during lockdown. AluK’s Marketing Director Sioned Roberts, says her team has looked at what practical steps it can take to help customers once the restrictions are eased.
She says: “Our production and distribution operations may have been shut down for the past few weeks, but all of AluK’s customer support departments have remained open and working from home. A huge amount is being done focused on helping customers get through this crisis, and the new Marketing Academy website is an important part of that. It’s a marketing toolkit with downloadable guides to everything from Google Ads to writing a press release, and it’s all things which we can help customers do for themselves for free, even during lockdown.”
Alongside this, AluK’s finance team are also offering vital support to customers to help them navigate the financial implications of the crisis. Finance Director Marc Thomas adds: “There is so much government support available that it can feel a bit overwhelming. We’re signposting our customers to the most relevant schemes for them – whether that is furloughing staff, accessing business loans and local authority grants, or deferring VAT payments.
“Just as importantly, we’re also advising them on how to manage cash flow moving forward and any steps they can take to make sure that their businesses and not just their workforces remain fit and well.”
Russell Yates adds: “We want to see a coordinated and collective effort to return to work as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so, and obviously that has to start with the systems houses in order to get the supply chain moving again. AluK is putting its considerable resources behind these efforts, helping our customers and we hope the wider industry as well.”