Janie Thompson, one of the directors of Thornham Deli
Janie Thompson, one of the directors of Thornham Deli, the popular deli and lifestyle store on the North Norfolk coast, has talked openly about the emotional impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on herself as a leader, whose business is all about socialising, eating and drinking.
The Deli, in the heart of the village of Thornham, is one of the most popular eating and shopping spots in the region. It has taken a huge hit in the weeks following the Covid-19 restrictions, closing the restaurant and shop side of the business and taking a substantial economic loss in the process.
The business has adapted and changed its working practices in line with government guidelines but, with staff furloughed and the hospitality industry a long way from returning to normal, Thornham Deli has been involved in a fight for its very survival.
Talking on a podcast hosted by Matthew O’Neill on behalf of the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Janie was sharing the platform with England cricketing legend Andrew Strauss. The theme was all about leadership, but for Janie, the focus for both the podcast and in everyday life, is about leadership at a time of global crisis.
‘I will never forget the Friday that lock down began,’ says Janie in response to Matthew Neill’s question about the impact of Covid-19. ‘I was cashing up and we were preparing for Mothering Sunday, which was going to be a busy weekend. And then it was announced on the news that all cafes were to be closed that evening. Our fridges were all fully stocked for the weekend, it would have been a busy, sunny weekend. I was wracked with anxiety. What was I going to do? I think I shed a tear. That was my immediate response but then I realised as a leader of this company I had to get us through this, I had to make a plan as to how we were going to go forward.’
Janie recounts how she and key members of the team made plans, only to tear them up again as the lockdown restrictions tightened. At first, they stayed open but under strict social distancing measures. Then, as people continued to flock to the coast, they had to make the difficult decision to close every part of the business as they knew it.
But Janie knew that the Deli had to keep going in some form and so she and her skeleton staff changed their offer dramatically. A table full of essential household items took pride of place. The fruit and vegetable section was stocked high and the selection of ready-made meals was increased. The Deli offered a grateful local community a shop where they could get essentials and, in an area with a number of elderly residents, this was just what was needed.
Home deliveries to the vulnerable, online orders for customers who lived miles from a supermarket, meals for key workers – the Deli changed its focus and, in doing so has changed its position within the community. The addition of a honesty box for Sunday papers nailed it for Janie and her team.
During the course of the conversation, Janie reflects upon the past few weeks and her relationship with her staff. She admits to having her own meltdown moments and has discovered which members of staff have really stood up at a time of crisis.
‘This crisis has proven to me who the people are who can really think about the business and accept and adapt to change. They are coming up with ideas at all hours. It is about being creative and evolving to what is going on. I have been astounded by the ideas that people have come up with. It has been like going to war and it is great to know that these people are beside me.
‘I think that leadership and knowing how to lead a team effectively is something you cannot learn at university, you learn it with age and experience. You also have to be forthright yourself. You cannot be a weak person.’
The interview was part of a series of interviews with leaders from different sectors of the economy. Speaking about the series, former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett, chairman of The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland said: ‘I think the most informative element of each episode is the first part, where Matthew O’Neill is able to sit down with someone who really gets how their industry works and knows how to make their organisation tick. Someone who’s there day in day out working hard and inspiring others. That’s what leadership is all about.’
For the full Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland interview with Janie Thompson follow this link; https://youtu.be/FJEoaEBfU8o