A Banff shopkeeper has revealed he was forced to drive as far south as Manchester to stock up on essential supplies for vulnerable people in the early months of the pandemic.
Des Cheyne, who owns the Spotty Bag Shop, said he and his family were “gobsmacked” to find he would be awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his role in the north-east town’s Covid response.
The 46-year-old and his staff provided more than 1,000 coronavirus kits for vulnerable residents, which included hard-to-source products like hand sanitiser, paracetamol and toilet roll.
And the businessman said panic buying and stock shortages left him taking 800-mile round trips in order to secure supplies for Banff.
The help, which included a free delivery service for those shielding, was made all the more essential by a lack of a large supermarket in the area.
Mr Cheyne, born and bred in the Aberdeenshire town, said he was “overwhelmed” when he read the letter from the palace telling him he was to be given the medal.
“When I first got wind of it, I was speechless and humbled by it all as it is not something I ever expected.
“It would never have been achieved without the support of my family, staff and people in the community and further afield.
“There has been so much support for us and this was the time to give back.”
With his Bridgeview Restaurant closed by the government to reduce the spread of the virus, Mr Cheyne was able to have around eight staff a day compiling the kits and overseeing the rationing of supplies.
“Those were long days and nights for staff replenishing stock levels and it was my job to source as much stock as I could to keep the shelves filled.
“I could say it was very challenging and I drove as far as Manchester on several occasions to find stock amid shortages.
“But we managed, we got there and even with shortages of things like toilet roll, we were never out of stock.
“We pulled all our resources to keep things going.”
As well as the essentials provided in the kits, Mr Cheyne and the staff provided free stationery for struggling families, adapting to the change in schooling arrangements brought about in lockdown.
Working with the local church, they were able to keep pupils at Banff Academy and the local primaries well supplied – while wool was dished out to those shielding to give them something to do during their months-long isolation too.
He added: “I never intended to be recognised like this, I just wanted to give back to the local community.
“We have always been blessed with a huge support from customers and we felt this was the time to step up and give back with the virus.
“That could not be achieved without the staff going the extra mile – I couldn’t do it all on my own.
“We realised how challenging this all was for businesses and people’s mental health so it was important to find ways to accommodate everyone.”