Foreword by Branch Manager Susie.

Our Retail Co-ordinator Steph has been part of the RSPCA Manchester and Salford Branch family for over 10 years now. She started out as a part time deputy shop manager all those years ago and today is embedded in the fabric of who we are. Our branch depends on the income our 5 shops raise every year. Our retail staff are highly valued by us all, as they enable us to pay the vet bills each month, not have to say no to a life saving operation or worry about paying wages. But in the last 11 months these unsung heroes have had their lives turned upside down and their working lives rewritten more times than was thought possible. Here, in her own words, Steph documents the challenges she has faced since this all began.

At the time of writing it has been 310 days since the world as we know it came to a standstill. That’s 100s of sleepless nights, 806 episodes of Friends, dozens of take-aways, banana bread galore and running out of new internet. Is it still March? August? Has Christmas happened? Who knows anymore!?

The mountainous ups and downs of the last year brought to my attention just how much I need structure and routine to consider myself a human being. Not only that, but how much I thrive on having a purpose that makes a difference to the lives of others, primarily furry ‘others’, but lives nonetheless. During the early weeks of Lock Down 1 I found myself, like many of us, overtaken by constant scary news reports of this unknown threat. The fear of this invisible killer was sickening and death rates ever climbing. And so beginning the first stages of my Neanderthal state!

”CardBORED” of seeing us!

Before the start of lockdown we were lucky enough to be fostering three kittens, and suddenly they had nowhere to go because adoption was no longer permitted. They were the sole reason for me getting up in the morning because I knew they needed me. Eventually the two brothers, Fisher and Lundy, found their forever home and I was left with the precious little girl Malin: at the time she was not gaining weight (likely down to her greedy brothers). The bond between us felt so important (it was). She needed me to get her on her feet for cat life and I needed a reason to exist. Being a part of our retail team doesn’t often put us on the front line of what our amazing branch does every day. So having my work removed from me made me feel helpless and unable to help; Malin got me through!

Weekend away (on the Living Room floor)

When we were eventually able to reopen our shops there was a lot of fear about contagion and so we undertook staggered re-opening of all the shops, plenty of risk assessments, gallons of sanitiser and plenty of stop-starting as further lockdowns and local restrictions saw our shops closed more often than they were open. The retail staff were wonderfully supportive and complied with all the ever changing rules and regulations and embraced the new ways of working all so they could get back to raising much needed funds for our animals.

We were instantly faced with new challenges:

– Trying to be human for 9am

– Dealing with customers in our shops unwilling to follow government guidelines, such as hand sanitising and wearing masks. Being abused for enforcing these rules became a daily occurrence.

– We had shops with zero footfall due to people working from home and hospitality being closed.

– Some shops were inundated with donations that people had been saving up for months: which then had to be quarantined on the premises for 72 hours before being sorted. We were grateful but definitely overwhelmed!

– Donation quarantine meant we had to introduce a daily limit for incoming donations: which then triggered a lot of fly tipping! Which in turn became dangerous and expensive to contend with. (We have held a fundraiser just to cover the costs of clearing it up). We of course rely on donations but please don’t leave them outside!

Fly tipping – A frequent sight: Heart-breaking as it is expensive!

Now, as I sit here in Lock Down 3, our five shops are frozen in Christmassy time capsules because we were last open on 24th December. A stark reminder that the corona virus has become a paralyzing force once more. We are now approaching a year from when it all began. I am two stone heavier, lacking all concept of days of the week, we have one less family member (due to COVID-19), I remain unsure of when I’ll see my grandparents and friends again and the landscape of our past life seems all but a distant memory. I think of my mum, a paramedic, being out there on the front line every week since this nightmare began. I do try and think back to what I’ve learnt from this so far.

Sometimes it’s good to force yourself to get up and ready for the day; brush your hair, cook a breakfast, read a book, reach out to an old friend, YouTube a yoga class, paint a picture, say hello to your postie, donate to a food bank, facetime the grandparents, try a new food, limit your TV time, limit your social media time – and then try not to feel bad if it’s been a few days between doing normal ‘human’ things.

There were highs….
… and lows!

Looking forward, the day we’re allowed to throw open our shop doors can’t come soon enough. Our five shops are the primary source of income to fund those little furries that need us; food, any veterinary care and a safe place to sleep. It’s as literal as selling a book to provide money for cat food. The arrival of our online charity shop Chapter Six last year has given me hope, along with the charity eBay page, it means we still have a platform to raise funds. I can’t say I’m not worried about my job in the long run, there was supposed to be a wedding to pay for but there’s most certainly a mortgage and our own fur babies to feed. But being part of this RSPCA family makes it all so much more than that. I am proud to be part of this amazing team of motivated, selfless, driven and inspirational people. Whatever the future holds I know we’ll keep on carrying on. 2021: Lets be having you!

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