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Looking back at 2020

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You are very welcome to our Christmas newsletter.

2020 has been a year of challenges, changes and surprises. I am sure that you all have stories to tell of your personal experience of this year and how it has affected your life. Covid-19 has connected us all, even as it has forced us apart.

When we had to close The Burren Perfumery doors suddenly on March 16th it came as a shock and I remember the feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach. My husband and I have been running this business since 2001 and have seen other tough times: foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, then 9/11 in the same year, and later the 2008 recession. However, nothing had been quite as sudden or complete as this, and we had never closed the doors. Mainly my concern was for the staff: what would we do with no income to pay wages? What would they do? My stress levels rose as we tried to prepare and plan for the worst when just weeks before we had been busy hiring for the summer season, manufacturing new stocks, preparing the premises and the gardens. We had a few nervous weeks while we planned for progressively more extreme impacts. But then the Irish government stepped in with the announcement of relatively generous and prompt pandemic payments and supports for everyone. The decisions were taken out of our hands and everyone was able to focus on primary goal of limiting the spread of the disease. I was proud to be living in Ireland.

As we tried to recover from the shock, gradually individual staff members came up to us, one by one: “I am going to keep coming in to look after garden, you don’t have to pay me”, “I live across the road, I will come in to sort out the mail order queries, I don’t need to be paid”, “Whatever you need, just ask me”, “I can be laid off it that’s better for you”, “I’ll be fine, sure what can you do?”. The wave of support, care and solid decency from our staff was overwhelming and heartwarming.

Down to a handful of core staff, we kept doing whatever needed to be done. We live on the premises so we benefited from the beautiful tulips that Sarah had prepared for Easter customers; we packed mail order boxes, we swept the yard, we dealt with paperwork and bills. It was surprisingly busy given that everything had sort of stopped!

Lana guards the mail sacks

As shops closed and people stayed home, mail order grew and grew. We had not expected this but in hindsight it was easy to see that demand would rocket for soaps and handcreams. We started running out of stocks of products that Rose had made for the summer season. In mid-May we called a meeting of the core staff and asked them to come back to work full time. Whatever your job description had been previously, it now involved manufacturing, filling, labelling and … packing parcels. Yippee! Back in action. The support from all our customers - past, present and new - was amazing and it was a huge relief to have at least some revenue coming in and not feeling we were digging ourselves a bottomless pit of debt.

By June there was phased re-opening happening and we learned we would be able to open from July. We had got used to working behind closed doors and feeling safe. We were a little (perhaps more than little!) apprehensive about how it would be. What if 50 cars arrived? What if no-one arrived? What if we couldn’t keep everyone safe? What if one of the staff got sick? Everyone has somebody they are trying to protect so our key priority was to protect our staff and make sure that they felt comfortable and safe ,and, of course, to ensure that we took every precaution and recommendation to protect our customers. We spent weeks putting systems in place so that everyone could queue and socially distance. We wanted to preserve as much of the personal experience which is our trademark at Perfumery, while working within the government guidelines and constraints.

And it was wonderful. The gates opened and we remembered how lovely it was to see customers. Everyone was respectful of the guidelines, grateful for our efforts, patient, cheerful and… Irish! Over the summer we think that we must have met people from every corner of the country. And it was the same all over the West. There were Irish people holidaying in every town and village; campsites were full, beaches were thronged with frozen children building sandcastles in the rain. Ah, the Irish summer…

Running with a much smaller team meant that we all worked every day and every weekend. It was intense but the feeling of camaraderie and fulfilment was great, and positive feedback from our customers was wonderful. I worked in the Tearooms as it was just so busy, even in its takeaway form, that I had to bake cakes at home in the evenings and man the till during the day. We just kept going all summer. It was tough, but I think everyone was happy to be working again, glad to be doing something with other people after three months of being at home.

Celeste packing gift boxes

We are now in the middle of the Christmas mail order which is record breaking, especially with so many new Irish customers. Thank you! I am in awe at how our customers have supported us and how the Irish have rallied around local businesses.

So, in the midst of this very difficult year of changes and challenges, what I shall remember most are the people. I will remember the heartwarming goodwill and hard work of the staff and the good temper, patience and encouragement of our customers. I have learnt a lot this year: that life will change, can be unpredictable, insecure, frightening, but we get through it. It’s the people that count. We are feeling very grateful.

Best wishes for a warm and safe Christmas season,

Sadie Chowen