Macys News: heroes of Birchington

You wouldn’t need to look too far in our beautiful village to find many a friendly face, helping hand, and selfless volunteer. Most recently, though, it was the heroic husband and wife duo Martin and Joe Churchward (owners of Macys News in Station Approach) that were recognised and celebrated for their incredible work which started at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and is still currently in place two years on.

 

With a loyal and local clientele, Martin and Joe of Macys News went the extra mile by helping customers with their food deliveries throughout the lockdowns, not only taking food list orders over the phone and going shopping for residents but also collecting prescriptions and dropping off items individually at the front doors from a safe social distance.

 

Talking about the early beginnings of this, Martin tells us how it all started; “From the beginning of COVID-19, the first thought was to keep our customers safe, 90% of our shoppers are over the age of 60/70 years of age and we were all very concerned at the time. The news coming out was very scary and people understandably didn’t want to leave their homes.

“We wanted to help and knew that we had to do it the right way abiding by the rules that were put in place. My wife printed out a letter, offering a delivery service to anybody that needed it and we gave that to every single person that came through our door whether they were a regular customer or not. We sent the letter to every home news delivery customer which is about 400 people that we deliver newspapers to every day.

“We took deliveries from customers over the phone on a Monday who would pay remotely and then we would go and collect their shopping on the same day after closing the shop. They could order anything they wanted and we would get it, even if we didn’t stock it, we would source it either from other supermarkets or sometimes online.

“Some people might only order 5 things, and others might do a full week’s shop but once we collected the items, we would leave the goods on their doorstep and stand back at a distance so the residents could collect their shopping comfortably and safely.”

 

Offering such a fantastic service, these deliveries would take place three times a week during the height of the pandemic with Joe visiting the wholesalers every day, as well as frequent supermarket trips which at times would frustratingly see other shoppers accuse Martin and Joe of being ‘panic buyers’, Martin added: “In the early days, I had to go in with Joe sometimes when she was shopping because of the aggression she was getting from people that thought she was panic buying!

“We would be walking around Tesco when the supermarkets were running short of items and were buying £800 worth of goods so obviously, it does look like that but even when we would try and explain people still thought that we were fobbing them off, it probably didn’t look great having 20 bunches of bananas in your trolley!”

 

Over these last 2 years, the shopping was cut down to twice a week and is still running today with deliveries taking place once a week as Martin reminisced on the past, putting into context how the service means so much more than just a food drop off for his customers, he explained:

“At the start, for some of the deliveries, we would be the only people our customers would see throughout the entire day and that’s the other side to it. You know some people have got family and kids that do shops for them but many haven’t and are on their own and I think that’s why the deliveries have continued into 2022.

“Buying all their items through us means customers can order anything they want and we will get it but if they go to Co-op and have got no bread, for example, they won’t be able to have it for that day because some of our shoppers haven’t got the means of being able to use a computer or get to a big supermarket.”

 

During such an unprecedented period, owning a business through a global pandemic is bound to cause fear but as Martin explains, taking on these deliveries helped Macys News as well as the local community through an unpredictable time, he said: “In lockdown when everything first started, we weren’t sure that staying open could have a very detrimental impact.

“We are a newsagents so we have regular customers that come and get a paper but we also have a lot of passers-by come in as we are right by a train station but none of that was happening.

“So, what we did helped keep our business ticking over because, for every order that we took, there were predominantly items that would come from our shop so we were still getting sales that we wouldn’t have got normally.

“If we didn’t do this, we would have only been reliant on the odd people that were coming out which was very limited. We were also shutting early to limit people coming out in the beginning so we would close shop at 11:00am.

“We were never really worried for the business, it was more concern for the health and safety of our customers especially at the beginning because although we wanted to do this for them, we had to take into account that there were sacrifices we had to make by putting ourselves in the thick of things.

“Going to the supermarket three times a week was high risk because we could potentially transmit to other people and we had two children being home-schooled so there was a lot to juggle and manage.”

 

 

Named after their 18-year-old daughter, Macys News opened in 2005, and together with their son, Darcy, 13, Martin, 43, and Joe, 48, have been friendly faces welcoming all their customers throughout a tenure that has seen the financial crash of 2007-08 and the global pandemic.

 

Pondering over the past though, Martin assures me that the home delivery service helped in more ways than one: “Without the home delivery side of it, who knows what could have happened to us? We might have been fine it’s hard to say but I think it certainly helped us. It helped our sanity as well because we were very busy, we never really had time to dwell on COVID and worry about this or that. We were extremely busy for the majority of the week so we got through it quite quickly without thinking about things too much.”

 

On 25th May, Martin and Joe were invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the trophy they were presented with after achieving third place in the ‘Excellence in Lockdown’ award. Talking before the event, Martin recalls the rather surreal moment when they received their accolade, he said: “A woman just came into the shop one day and handed us the award, congratulating us. I am not too sure where it came from, to be honest, but I think we got a lot of good support online. I know we were told about a nice Facebook post someone did which is very much appreciated. Me and Jo are a bit old school and don’t really do social media!

“We then got a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Kent inviting us to Buckingham Palace which we couldn’t believe! We are still waiting to hear about the dress code for the day, I just hope it’s not a top hat!”

 

I start to realise when talking to Martin just how modest he is and whilst he is aware that the work he and Joe have done will be celebrated, he makes sure to remind me that several people have to get a mention for their hard work, he concluded: “We have been very blessed that what we are doing has been supported by people and we have got recognition for it, not that we wanted it or we did it for that purpose, it was solely to help our customers and to keep them safe.

“Through the early days, we had two customers that massively helped us, Irene and Caroline. Often they would go and pick up prescriptions from the chemist ready for us to deliver with the food shopping, they deserve a mention.

“The paperboys and girls were dropping milk off on their deliveries. Our delivery driver dropped off bread and milk to customers, every one of them worked so hard during these lockdowns. We were very lucky as they worked all the way through, they deserve a lot of credit as well. It wasn’t just us.

“Macy has done a lot of work as well over the last year towards the deliveries. She works with me part-time Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday whilst also doing her college course and is fully invested in the home delivery orders.”

 

So, if you are reading this and it’s morning and you haven’t bought your daily newspaper yet, why not pay this fantastic family-run business a visit as the work that Macys News has done over these past few years is the true definition of what a loving community is all about.

by Matthew Hemmings

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