Without putting too fine a point on it, coronavirus hit Vanguard hard.
The vast majority of our business is within the accommodation sector, whose occupancy rates fell to nearly zero almost as soon as restrictions were announced. This resulted in an instant 80% drop in our business, reducing our average weekly volume from 50 tons of laundry a week down to less than 10. The crisis had hit.
The domino effect, similar to many businesses, meant that more than 30 people faced an immediate reduction of hours and income to effectively zero.
Vanguard’s first response was to focus the management team to 2 clear issues;
- The first and most important factor was to make sure that all of our impacted staff, most of whom had come to us with a lived experience of mental health, were supported in a number of ways. Essentially we had to do whatever we could to keep them safe.
This included driving people to appointments, going to collect food hampers with them, advocating on our employees behalf with banks and landlords, holding on the phone with them to Centrelink (for hours!), and keeping in regular to contact to make sure everyone was getting through as best they could. We didn’t rest until everyone had been connected with some kind of income stream – whether that be Jobseeker, Jobkeeper, or the Disability Pension.
- The second consideration was survival. Thankfully, due to our contracts in the less impacted health sector, but also because of a recent move to diversify away from being so reliant on the accommodation market, Vanguard was able to face the immediate wave and move through with a base level of production. This allowed the business to take a short breath and focus on the next steps.
This meant we could focus on the discretionary/controllable areas of our operations to reduce the impact of ongoing costs and try to mitigate the pain.
At this stage Vanguard was also offered incredible support from some of our funding partners, such as The John Villiers Foundation, The Paul Ramsay Foundation, Hand Heart Pocket, and the Douglas Family Foundation. Additionally, and thanks to a wonderful relationship with our commercial banker, we were able to utilise payment subsidies through Westpac.
These organisations proactively reached out to us to see what they could do to get us through. Without them, our road to recovery would have been significantly more challenging.
Whilst, like everyone, we try to work out what the ‘new normal’ is, things are moving in the right direction, and we’re not sitting still. Volume is starting to recover, with eased travel restrictions, and an increase in elective surgery from our health partners.
Hopefully, this will continue with more restrictions being lifted. On June 12, families will be allowed to travel again and holiday within Queensland, which will make a huge impact in the accommodation sector.
We have taken a couple of lessons from this crisis, which will place Vanguard in good stead as we look to the future.
- A reminder of what our core focus is, and what our key assets are – our people. It is the reason why Vanguard exists, and one we are very proud to have put as a top priority during recent times.
- The importance of taking a step back and planning, not just for the now, but also for the soon to come. One thing the Vanguard team did not face at any point of the last few months was panic. This allowed us to calmly approach each problem as it arose, and discuss a solution, and collectively move forward.
- Rather than retreating, we are looking to grow. We are bringing new people into our team who are going to equip our staff to reskill and create new opportunities for them to work in businesses within our community.
Through hard work and out of the box thinking, we can get our entire workforce back to work in the next 12 months – either at Vanguard or somewhere else.
We endeavour to battle through, put our arms (socially distanced of course) around our staff, even those who have been let go, to ensure Vanguard is stronger than ever in the post COVID world.