It’s 5am. I’m just finishing packing up my van, accompanied by the hooting of owls chatting to each other in the trees. I wonder if they’re talking about us. The blackbirds start up their song, ushering the clouds to let the sun through, and the sky turns a beautiful mix of blues and rust colours.
The sound of the birds is a comfort every morning. ‘Imagine a silent dawn,’ a customer said to me once, as I described the small joys of these early starts. All packed up, I head off, with the rain just starting to come down. A fox scurries across the road.
My first delivery is at about 5:45am. For the first hour or so, I drop and go, without talking to anyone. It’s all about stealth in the early hours, gently closing the gate behind me, not wanting to disturb folk as they begin to emerge out of sleep – to face what, for many, seem to be increasingly difficult days.
Later in the morning, I start knocking on doors to let people know their box has arrived. As drivers, we enjoy a really direct connection with our customers; we get to know the people on our rounds and hear their stories. Key themes emerge: ‘I didn’t believe it could get any worse, but it does,’ on the antics of our government. Worry for themselves and others who are feeling the squeeze. But there is also hope; it’s a privilege to hear about the comfort people take from Riverford, how they love being part of something so positive, and how much they trust us to do the right thing.
During the pandemic, we were often the only person some of our customers saw that day. If I had time, I could write a book of all the stories people have shared.
I make it back to my hub at around 12:30pm, ready to unload a van full of returned packaging. The birds have flown, and the peaceful morning start has been replaced by the humdrum of a busy industrial estate, full of small businesses making a living. My mind is buzzing with thoughts from the day. Some of them I’ll feed back to the rest of our co-owner council, to help us make the best decisions for all who are part of Riverford – on both sides of the doorstep.