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COVID19 Lockdown Diary – Sheena Archer

by APS in News Comments: 0

Sheena back at work post COVID lockdown

Back to Work

On Monday 11th May, I returned to my job in the office.  We’ve been given the green light to reopen the business with a skeleton staff given our status within the construction industry.

It’s a very different atmosphere to the environment I left back in March. Very strict rules are in place to ensure social distancing and currently there are only three of us are working in the open plan sales office, where we would normally have up to 12 staff.

We now have rigid rules in place around customers placing orders for collection and unfortunately, they cannot enter the trade counter. There is a one-way system around the corridors and lots of yellow and black tape, new signage and Perspex between desks.

APS front desk COVID19 precautions

The front desk at APS complete with COVID19 social distancing screen and one way system.

The canteens are now furnished with small ‘tables for one’.

It has been extremely busy, especially on Monday and I get the feeling that many smaller businesses are extremely grateful that we are open again as they struggle to keep the wolf from the door in these unique times.

Next week we hope to see more of our aluminium and PVCU fabricators back at work in NI and in southern Ireland as construction sites are allowed to reopen there also.

Sooner rather than later, I would like to see all my colleagues back at work, even if this means a rota for working from home, which we are all now set up to do so as to maintain numbers for social distancing.

Ashleigh McIlwaine APS after COVID19 lockdown

I would like to be chatting again each day to all our busy customers and business returning to normal.  I would also like us to be discussing plans for a carefree weekend or a night out. Here’s hoping & praying!

I wrote a diary a few weeks back to share my lockdown experience with you all and I often wondered how similar your own experience was. 

Adapting to a new normal

This is the fourth week of lockdown since finishing work on Thursday 26th March, in line with government requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company remains closed indefinitely.

The end of March is always our company’s year-end, which culminates in a stock take. However, this year, stock take was cancelled. Sales targets were close to being realised and employees and directors alike are always interested in how we do overall.

The team at APS are fantastic. From estimating, designing, technical, sales, warehouse, distribution and accounts. We are keen to hear if the hard work all year is likely to allow us to achieve our targets, especially given this financial year ended sooner than we expected.

We closed at a very busy time of the year when business was strong. I hope I’m not being naive when I say that when we return to work, I wish we can all just start from where we left off. I hope that all our customers, suppliers and business partners will also be back at work when we get to the ‘other side’.

Global impact

We’ve all no doubt heard much about the sad news from China and parts of Europe that have been so significantly impacted by this virus. The lockdown has hit hard here in the UK and Ireland, and no doubt the world over, with busy offices brought to a halt.

APS Canteen

Impact on customers

We have a wide customer base in the Republic of Ireland and as we were working to slightly different lockdown rules initially, negotiating the lockdown seemed even more complicated. By Thursday 26th March, it was all sorted as government regulations came more closely into line with those in the south.

Changes at APS

From Monday 23rd March, I was set up to work from home and I was helping to tidy up as many loose ends as possible and complete customer deliveries within a very short time frame – some of these orders were aluminium architectural contracts for hospitals in the Republic of Ireland that were required urgently.

The initial fear I had of being made redundant or monthly salaries running out has dissipated, with the announcement that APS will be availing of the job retention scheme – where staff are furloughed for three months with the government promise of 80% pay.

From too many to none

Occasionally, I check my APS email inbox which would usually have been overflowing with emails. Never-ending emails of customer orders, inquiries, queries and supplier correspondence that I sometimes hoped I’d get a break from has ceased. Now, there’s sadly only spam, telling me that customers are not working either.

Today, a customer whose company is closed, inquired about hinges required to finish a hospital contract in Scotland – only essential work is the stipulation and this is certainly the case in this example. I’ve also noticed this week that Spanish and Italian suppliers have informed me that their governments have allowed their production to go back to work. I also saw this on the news and I only hope that this easing of lockdown isn’t premature and works out for them. Hopefully it is positive news and we will follow soon also.

My days at work are normally very busy with customer interaction non-stop. I really enjoy what I do. Friday mornings are spent working from home on APS digital marketing, another aspect I enjoy, even though then the inbox is swamped by our valued customers in the wake of our weekly marketing email.

Sheena Archer lockdown walk

We are the lucky ones

Being told you can’t go to work and your employer is closed indefinitely is a surreal feeling – one which it appears many of us have experienced in the last month. I know thousands of people are in the same boat and we are the lucky ones, because this should only be temporary.

My free time has been spent supervising home schooling, turning into a Domestic Goddess by cooking, baking and gardening.  My daily walk close by my home is along a steep country road on the outskirts of East Belfast from where I have super views of the city, Stormont etc.  I also look out for an elderly couple who live nearby who have no close family nearby.  I have been helping by bringing their groceries and some home baking around as well as phone calls to have a chat mostly about my gardening exploits as they are expert gardeners.

So grateful

The weather has certainly helped being on furlough. The time is going past quickly with every Clap For Our Heroes Thursday coming around so fast. I’m sure others who live alone or are vulnerable find the time passing much more slowly. Or indeed, those on the frontline and those who have experienced COVID-19 and survived or those less fortunate. Being out of work temporarily is a very small price to pay in the context of what is happening not just around the world but on our very own doorstep.

Lockdown into May

News came last week that the lockdown has been extended into May and I hope that by the end of May, the pandemic will have passed, and we can gradually return to normality, but only so long as it is safe to do so.

Social distancing reminder

Lasting impact

I’m not experienced in the overall running of a business, so I can’t tell what effect missing two to three months turnover might have. I can only assume it will have a considerable impact. I’m sure it is a very worrying time for business owners, something they could never have imagined or included in their planning.

In our case with the construction industry that seemed so buoyant beforehand, I wonder will it spring back into gear just a few months behind schedule?

The economic forecasts that appeared on the news regarding the recession that will ensue are foreboding, something that we all hope is incorrect. Perhaps, like the overwhelming amount of goodness this episode has brought in its wake, some new business opportunities will arise like we have seen so many times in the past.

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well and I hope it’s not too long before we’re back in regular contact again.

Statement Regarding Covid-19


We are facing unprecedented times and as such we are only able to make plans for a few days at a time.  As the situation evolves regarding the spread of COVID-19 and we receive government advice we are reacting and adapting accordingly.  So with this in mind we wish to clarify our immediate plans.

We are currently following government advice on hygiene for companies that remain in operation.  Employees have been informed of the importance of social distancing and increasing hygiene practices and enhanced cleaning within our offices.  We trust that any customers and visitors to our offices, trade counter and warehouses, will adhere to this, making use of the numerous hand sanitisers available upon entry.  All staff are aware of the importance of self-isolating for the recommended time periods if they display symptoms associated with COVID-19 or have been in contact with anyone who also shows symptoms.

In regard to our business, at this point in time we intend to remain fully operational.  Collections and deliveries of orders placed between now and Friday 27th March (the date of our year end stock take) will continue.  We intend to close for the full Easter week, commencing 13th April until 17th April inclusive.  Our supply chain is mostly UK based and, so far, factories remain open but, obviously this can change on a daily basis and we will keep you updated on this.

We trust you appreciate our plans are made with the best intentions for our staff, company and customer base going forward.

New Addition to APS Architectural Team


A very warm welcome to Philip Osbourne (right) who is our new Technical Sales Manager. He is pictured here with Architectural Sales Director Alan Denver. Philip will work alongside the rest of the Architectural team to strengthen APS’ all-Ireland sales. We wish Philip all the very best and hope he enjoys his new role with us!

Great Turn Out For APS Product Launch Coffee Morning


A big thank you to everyone who took the time to call at the APS product launch/coffee morning on Friday 28th February to hear all about our latest product developments.  It was a very informal morning when everyone was invited to call for a chat and some refreshments.  We hope that you found the time well spent and informative. Whether you are the architect specifying our systems, the fabricator, the builder, or indeed one of our suppliers, it was great to see you and the event was a great success.

Loyal Employee Wilson Retires


At the end of January 2020 we all got together to mark the retirement of Wilson Adams who had been employed at APS for over 15 years in the architectural accessories warehouse where he was rather an expert. We will miss him around the company and his many stories but know that he will call in to see us. The company directors presented him with a motorbike as a parting gift which left him speechless for the first time! We wish Wilson many happy years of retirement while making the most of his new found freedom with his new wheels on the highways and byways of Northern Ireland.

APS sponsor UUJ end of year Architecture award


APS continues to sponsor architectural students in conjunction with Ulster University. Pictured at the recent Architectural Technology End of Year Show 2019 is our Contracts Manager Kenny Faulkner presenting the “APS Award for Design Creativity 2018/2019” to Catriona Slane with a £200 cheque. We wish Catriona and all the class of 2019 the very best in their new careers.

APS sponsor match kits for Ridgeway Rovers 05 team


Aluminium & Plastics Systems (APS) Ltd is pleased to sponsor the new 2019/20 match kit for Ridgeway Rovers 05 National League team. The boys wore this on their recent trip to Fleetwood Town FC organised by coaches Stephen and Mark Thomas. Pictured are APS gary mcneill presenting the kit to players Matthew and Casey, and with the team. We wish the lads all the best for the new season. They certainly look the part!

APS sponsor UU event for architectural students


APS mantra ‘from concept to design’ is just one reason why we are proud to continue to sponsor events for up-and-coming architects in conjunction with Ulster University. Just before Christmas 2018 an event took place at the Mac Belfast where final Year Architectural Technology and Management students presented major project designs they are working on to guests and lecturers. The day included an inspirational talk from Richland Group CEO Gary McCausland. The students are a highly competent group and we wish them well as they approach the final stages of their course.

Christmas Hamper Winners


Congratulations to the winners of our Christmas hamper competition, Peter Stewart from Calico Architects seen here being presented with it by APS Contracts Manager Kenny Faulkner and Jonathon Gannon from Todds Architects. Anthony Crawford seen receiving the prize from Kenny on Jonathon’s behalf. Thanks to all who took part!

APS donates to NSPCC & Movember Foundation


APS are pleased to have made 2 charity donations last month thanks to the efforts of our colleagues Robert Bell and John Hilland who took part in the annual Movember moustache growing activities. Between them they raised over £1000 and APS matched their total. Chosen charities are the Children’s NI Hospice £1500 and the Movember Foundation for men’s cancer and men’s suicide prevention £552. Well done guys!