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Charity worker in lockdown

Caitlin shopping

Published on 12 May 2020 09:25 PM

The Essential Shopper

Caitlin's role within Age UK North Tyneside involves coordinating Strength and Balance classes working with our trainers, the NHS and of course customers.

Under lockdown many services are of necessity being provided in very different ways, and staff found themselves re-deployed to the provision of essential services.

This is Caitlin’s experience in her own words.

I started shopping for Fontburn Court and Crossgates Extra Care Schemes on Wednesday 25th March following the UK going into lockdown on Monday 23rd March.Prior to the pandemic, I hadn’t been to any of the Extra Care Schemes and had very little to do with the EveryDay Care side of the Group. I usually have an office based role which involves a lot of logistics and organisation through email and telephone.

When collecting lists and money or delivering shopping at Fontburn and Crossgates, I would contact the Team Leader or team member by mobile to let them know I was there so someone could come to me, rather than me going into the building.

By avoiding going in the building, I was reducing the risk of exposing staff and residents to any germs I may have picked up at the supermarkets. When I met with staff, they were always wearing PPE.

One of the biggest challenges I faced while shopping was trying to keep myself, my trolley and my bags as clean as possible to reduce risk. Tesco were very good in that they had a trolley cleaning station as you entered the shop (and everyone had to use a trolley to help with social distancing).

There were sprays for the trolleys and hand sanitizers for everyone to use in the entrance, however there was no other cleaning stations available in the shop- including the public customer toilets.As I would walk round the shop I would see people picking things up and putting them down again, touching their faces or their clothing and occasionally, other members of the public.I tried to keep myself clean by regularly changing my gloves and sanitising my hands and arms in between glove changes. There were plenty of other people wearing gloves, however it was unlikely that they were truly effective due to the previously mentioned reasons.

During the first couple of weeks of shopping, I was very grateful to have the bright and sunny weather we had, as I was often queuing in the car park to get into the shop. With everyone spaced 2 metres apart, it definitely looked worse than it was but it would still take me up to an hour to get into the store.

At this stage, Tesco had not put their NHS/Care Worker’s policy in place which later allowed me to skip the queues and head straight into the shop (where I would still have to queue through the magazine aisle and fruit and veg).The queue to get into the shop was often full of strangers having conversations about the pandemic and the “ridiculous” procedures put into place. For me, it was alarming to hear that so many people thought that the procedures were “pointless” or “over the top” as it meant they would be less likely to stick to the 2 metre social distancing rules and might not adopt the same level of hand hygiene as myself.

The longer the lockdown lasted, the behaviours and attitudes of the other shoppers did seem to change. After the initial couple of weeks, it definitely felt less tense in the store. However, there were still occasions where members of the public were giving me negative looks or making negative comments towards me.I had been shopping for 3/4 people at a time, so it was necessary for me to use a big trolley which quickly filled up. On one particular occasion, a gentleman walked past me in the car park and made the comment “look at the state of her trolley”, referencing how full my trolley was. Sadly, I did not get the opportunity to explain to him that I had the weekly shop of four separate people in my trolley.

Another unpleasant encounter I had with a fellow shopper was when I was collared by a lady in Tesco for the speed I was walking with my trolley and when I overtook her as she was stood in the middle of the aisle. By this time, I had been shopping for 5 weeks and was walking so fast because I knew where all the products my customers wanted and the quicker I was out of the supermarket, the better. That same lady was then in the checkout queue ahead of me.  I overheard her telling the checkout staff that I am “what's wrong with people in this crisis”. It felt particularly difficult to be targeted by that shopper, especially when I was there to help others.

There were some really lovely people out and about while I was shopping. Many members of the public would smile at me after seeing my Age UK North Tyneside lanyard and one lady even thanked me for my hard work.

The staff at the Tesco’s I shopped at were also amazing. Being there, every day for 6 weeks (sometimes twice in a day), I got to know a lot of the staff. I was particularly helped out by a member of staff called Martin, who would let me jump the queue within the store, meaning I could get into the aisles 10-15 minutes earlier than if I had waited in line. It also became a running joke with the checkout staff that they would guess how many people I was shopping for by how full my trolley was. Those moments of lovely human interaction definitely made up for the negative comments I had received.

It is very strange to shop for someone you don’t know and will never meet. I often would get lists reading “milk, bread, eggs, etc.” and I would have to guess at the types, brands and quantity that each customer wanted of these items. I did have one helpful customer who would send empty packaging down with the care staff so I would know exactly what I was looking for in the shop.

In the case of shopping for people in the community, I was facing customers which was a very different experience. Everyone I shopped for expressed so much gratitude for my help; including a non-verbal lady who had written a thank you card out while I was shopping for her. In those community situations I took extra precautions and armed myself with antibacterial wipes and a facemask. This was worth doing as some of the community customers had such poor mobility, they required help getting the shopping from the door to the kitchen.

Overall, the experience of being personal shopper to the Extra Care Schemes and people in the community was both exhausting and rewarding. There were times where I was concerned for my own health and the health of those I would deliver food to but then there were also wonderful times that would make me want to keep going.

Age UK North Tyneside can provide an essential shopping service for those unable to leave their homes due to self-isolation or shielding.

To request support call our Customer Service Team Tel 0191 2808484 or e mail

Well done and thank you Caitlin!

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