Retail always has been and always will be a people industry. People are the heart and soul of this sector and help make it such a vibrant and dynamic trade for us, as journalists, to have the pleasure of covering.

Sometimes, as we strive to do the best job we can for those people, we find that our words, analysis and opinions are simply not enough. In these unprecedented, challenging and uncertain times, that is often proving to be the case.

I took a call this week from a shopfloor worker who is facing redundancy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He implored Retail Week to help him and his colleagues, who are soon to be unemployed.

Job prospects elsewhere were “bleak”, he told me. “We don’t know what we’re going to do. A lot of us have young families to look after and bills to pay. We’re scared.”

Nothing I said could provide any real solace or properly reassure him. Nothing I said could make the worry and stress he was experiencing disappear.

But actions speak louder than words. Now is the time for action.

CaRe20 logo

Support CaRe20 today to help the UK’s retail workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

Retailers can help fund the appeal by contacting Claire Greenwood.

Individuals can donate to the CaRe20 appeal here.

How retailers treat their workers during this pandemic will define their brand for decades to come – join with RWRC, retailTRUST and the BRC to provide much-needed aid and assistance to the industry.

That caller’s story is, unfortunately, not unique. According to the BRC, 150,000 retail employees have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. More are likely to follow as businesses come under increasing financial pressure as a result of plummeting sales.

Many of those who remain in work or on furlough are unsure about their long-term job prospects. Others may be experiencing emotional and mental distress, as they try to combine working on retail’s front line with caring for older or vulnerable relatives. Some, sadly, will already be grieving loved ones lost to coronavirus.

At a time when those people need it most, now is the time for us, as an industry, to rally round and come together in the way only retail can and do what we can to help.

“Every day, customer-facing staff serve millions of shoppers, despite being regularly confronted with thieves, abusive customers and even violence”

That is why we at Retail Week and World Retail Congress have joined forces with retailTRUST and the BRC to launch ‘CaRe20 – Caring for Retail During Covid-19’. The campaign aims to raise £10m to help thousands of store workers – just like the caller I spoke to this week – who may be ineligible for government aid but remain in desperate need of financial, emotional, physical or vocational support during the health emergency.

Grants will be made available to those struggling to make ends meet, helping them pay for necessities like food, essential bills and childcare.

Telephone and online counselling services will be offered to people grappling with stress and anxiety.

Courses will be laid on to provide redundant staff with opportunities to retrain and upskill, leaving them better equipped to seek a new role.

Funds will also be made available to employees of retail’s partner industries, including the thousands working in food distribution, pharmaceutical and medical supply, logistics, warehousing and other parts of the supply chain – who are all going above and beyond to ensure shelves are stacked and the nation is fed during the health emergency.

Awe and admiration

I felt compelled to write to Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis this week after seeing all of that in action in my local Extra store.

It was a retail masterpiece. The team there has created tranquillity where there was turmoil only a fortnight earlier. Staff were calm and friendly, social distancing and queuing measures had been put in place to ensure shopper safety, and availability of key items such as toilet paper, bread, milk, pasta and rice was a world away from the chaos that reigned two weeks before.

I left the store in awe with an overwhelming sense of admiration for the incredible work the Tesco team had put in, despite operating in the eye of the most remarkable storm. What they had achieved in the space of two weeks, against the incredibly challenging backdrop created by the coronavirus outbreak, was phenomenal.

“Please give what you can. Our collective action will speak far louder than these words”

The pandemic has brought into focus similar outstanding efforts by frontline retail workers in stores across the UK, but such exploits are nothing new. Every day, customer-facing staff serve millions of shoppers, despite being regularly confronted with thieves, abusive customers and even violence. We often take their calmness, resilience and bravery for granted.

Some, unfortunately, will not have roles to return to for us to take for granted any longer. That is the stark reality facing thousands of retail workers as their employers battle through this crisis.

Now is the time to show how much we truly appreciate their superhuman efforts.

John Lewis Partnership, TK Maxx parent TJX Europe and Pets at Home have already pledged their support for the CaRe20 campaign.

Please follow their lead and give what you can. Our collective action will speak far louder than these words.