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‘We are a critical service’ - how newspaper delivery companies are coping with coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 12:45 03 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:45 03 April 2020

Adrian Thompson, who manages Filby Stores, and Tony Smith, who runs Norwich-based News Direct, have seen increased demand for home delivery of newspapers. Picture: Joe Norton/Tony Smith

Adrian Thompson, who manages Filby Stores, and Tony Smith, who runs Norwich-based News Direct, have seen increased demand for home delivery of newspapers. Picture: Joe Norton/Tony Smith

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Hundreds of people across the region staying at home during the coronavirus lockdown would have lost a link to the outside world if not for the newsagents, delivery companies and paperboys and girls who drop local and national titles on their doorsteps every morning.

Tony Smith runs the Norwich-based News Direct, a newspaper delivery company. Picture: Courtesy of Tony Smith.Tony Smith runs the Norwich-based News Direct, a newspaper delivery company. Picture: Courtesy of Tony Smith.

Local distribution companies have reported increases in demand for home deliveries since the restrictions were imposed over a fortnight ago.

We spoke with a number of those companies about how their businesses have been affected by the pandemic and about their role in a world of social distancing and self-isolation.

Tony Smith, 62, who runs the Norwich-based News Direct, said the company has lost about 25pc of its business delivering to pubs, hotels, cafes and restaurants but gained back approximately 5pc with the increase in demand from home deliveries.

Mr Smith is normally up at 3am before collecting the papers at Menzies, the distribution centre, and taking them back to the company’s warehouse, from where seven vans distribute them to businesses and homes throughout the city.

Councillor for the Fleggburgh ward, Adrian Thompson, who set up the petition. Picture: Joseph NortonCouncillor for the Fleggburgh ward, Adrian Thompson, who set up the petition. Picture: Joseph Norton

“On the one hand, we’ve lost a substantial part of our business, yet on the other hand, because people are staying at home, they want newspaper delivery.

“We have gained with deliveries to homes, especially the elderly.”

Mr Smith recently received a letter from an elderly customer, who said she really looked forward to seeing the delivery van coming to the house every morning,

“So many elderly people like the newspaper in the morning, especially at a time like this,” he said.

Vans belonging to Norwich-based News Direct, a newspaper delivery company. Picture: Tony Smith.Vans belonging to Norwich-based News Direct, a newspaper delivery company. Picture: Tony Smith.

The company is getting ten to fifteen new customers a day and now has over 100 new residential customers since the lockdown began.

“At the end of the day, I’m still going,” Mr Smith said. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m lucky to still be working, to still have an income.”

Adrian Thompson, 55, manages Filby Stores and Post Office.

He said: “It’s a difficult time, we have lost all of the work traffic. We’ve had to make some changes, we’ve put some screens up at the Post Office, there is more cleaning going on.

A van belonging Jom Aldred, who delivers newspaper in the Beccles area. Picture: Jim Aldred.A van belonging Jom Aldred, who delivers newspaper in the Beccles area. Picture: Jim Aldred.

“People are still coming in picking up what they have to pick up, the essentials like bread and milk.”

“The post office is an absolute lifeline,” he said.

“We’ve picked up a lot more home deliveries of newspapers.”

His father opened the shop in 1963 and after died in 2018 Mr Thompson took over.

He said the circumstances have been challenging. “But we will rise to the challenge, people around here are very resilient.”

MORE: Delivery drivers hailed ‘unsung heroes’ as home deliveries continue amid lockdown

James Browse, 42, runs the Halvergate-based Home News Delivery, which makes approximately 2,500 drop-offs every morning all over Norfolk and north Suffolk.

He said the company has picked up 200 extra orders in the past week and a half.

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“There has been a huge rise in demand all over the county,” he said.

The company’s delivery staff and paperboys and girls start at 5am and finish by 8.30am.

“We are a critical service, from the point of view of processing information from the government for our readers,” Mr Browse said.

He added that the company’s drivers and paperboys and girls have been “absolutely brilliant”.

Jim Aldred, from Beccles, said he has been a “paperboy for 30 years”.

He gets up every morning at 4.30am before collecting the newspapers in Beccles.

He then cuts up all the bundles and separates the papers into bags which he drops off for his paperboys and girls, leaving the bags in the wheelie-bins outside their houses so there is no contact.

Mr Aldred then drives his van to Worlingham, Barmby, Carlton, Rushmere, delivering papers to doorsteps - he now has more than 200 customers.

He usually gets home by 9am.

“A lot of people are not wanting to go out to the shops, so we are getting more home delivery orders,” he said.

He said his phone has been ringing all the time with people looking for deliveries.

“We’ve been told what we’re doing is essential, because the public needs to know what’s going on,” he said.

On Monday (March 30) Norfolk’s MPs backed the “vital” role of local newspapers in keeping the elderly and isolated informed throughout the coronavirus crisis - and urged people to keep having their news delivered to the doorstep.

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