Fyne Folk – Elaine Polanski, Office Manager
Welcome to this week’s Fyne Folk, our blog introducing Fyne Ales team members and talking to them about their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we welcome more of our team back in the glen, we want to share their stories from lockdown, how they’ve been coping and what their hopes are for a post-pandemic brewery and world.
This week’s blog is a chat with Elaine Polanski, our Office Manager and linchpin of the brewery. Elaine has been working for over ten years, starting as an admin assistant helping Jonny in the office, and now one of the most important people in the organisation. Elaine’s role is all about managing the beer we produce, getting it out to customers, both trade and public via our online shop, Brewery Shop & Tap, as well as all our human resources and lots lots more in between. Elaine was one of a handful of our team who has been working full time since the lockdown measures were announced, so we caught up with her about her experience working through the pandemic.
As one of the few people who has been working full time since the start of the pandemic – how has your job changed over the past months?
It’s been very different, especially at the start. Before, my job was office-based, selling to trade lots of paperwork and logistics. It was a desk job, mostly – and it felt like I went from one day doing that, to the next day running every part of an online shop, from processing the orders to moving beer around, to packing up boxes and repairing the cardboard shredder. It was suddenly much more physically demanding, and a lot of hard work.
And we were crazy busy at the start – I think we were expecting that first wave of online orders to die off quickly, people would get bored or move on to other breweries, but the support kept coming and we kept seeing the same names coming back for more beer. We did everything we could to keep up and get all the beer out. It took a bit of time to figure out how to work efficiently – I think like a lot of breweries and only shops we were a bit caught out.
How has it been more of the Fyne Ales team coming back to the brewery?
It’s been great to have more and more of the team back at the brewery – with pubs reopening we need different people in to work and that can only be a good thing for Fyne Ales. To be honest, it’s been a bit strange to get back to my day job – there were definitely bits I’d forgotten and had to remind myself how to do them.
And you’ve been instrumental in getting the Brewery Shop and Courtyard reopening recently too?
The idea of opening up the shop and then the Courtyard and actually having folk here at the brewery was exciting, we’ve all been at home and unable to go and do things for so long that it’s nice to be able to offer people a different experience, but there was a constant little worry because there’s still a pandemic going on. We were so isolated up here for months, the idea of having folks coming from all over to here was a bit strange.
I’m glad we did it the way we did it – slowly, safely with the shop first and the courtyard just last week. We waited to make sure we were fully confident that we were able to open up properly and that we manage things the right way and I think it’s paid off. We’re lucky to have a beautiful outside space; we’ve been busy, but it’s never felt busy – it’s open, it’s comfortable and it feels safe – I think folk have enjoyed it so far and hopefully we’ll see more visitors in the coming weeks.
You’re a big part of the organisation of FyneFest – how was it missing out on the festival this year?
It was sad, and quite strange spending that weekend at home, not having to worry about writing the quiz questions, not having a hangover on Sunday morning. We’re a small team that organises the festival and we love it, having so many people come to join us for the weekend – it’s a real shame to have broken the streak after ten years, but it was for the best.
FyneFest at home was fun – it was a chance to blow off some steam and bring a bit of FyneFest to the people while they were in lockdown – a bit of light entertainment. It’s funny when I was told it was happening. I didn’t really want to do the quiz, I thought it wouldn’t be the same without everyone in the courtyard, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the lockdown. I hope folk enjoyed it!
How was your home life impacted by lockdown and the pandemic?
Working full time and living in a small community, it didn’t feel dramatically different – I think with the way work changed, weekends became even more important as things were so hectic at the start. I needed them to recharge my batteries.
My husband has been working full time as well, so we made the most of our weekends together and our time at home by doing up our garden – lots of digging up plants, which he mostly did, and spending money on new things, which I mostly did. We were lucky as we had such beautiful weather it was nice to spend so much time outside.
Was there anything in particular you missed?
My family- my four grandkids, my sons and daughter-in-laws. People in the village I could catch up with over the fence or see them for a socially distanced coffee in the garden, but our family is quite spread out around the country so apart from a few Skype calls and phone calls it was hard not seeing them for so long.
We’ve been lucky and been able to see everyone in the last few weeks since the rules started to be relaxed, which was amazing.
How are you feeling about how the industry is opening back up and the potential for a second wave that’s being talked about?
As online sales started to decline, sales to pubs and bars started to go up – it’s been a steady start, a bit busier than I expected, but it’s good that pubs want our beer and folk are obviously wanting to drink it in pubs again.
We’ve worked really hard to keep going through everything, and I don’t think we’re safe yet. There’s obviously going to be knock-on effects for the economy for a long time and with redundancies people might not be able to drink as much, start prioritising other things over buying beer – the idea of being hit with a second lockdown is honestly scary as I don’t know if people will be able to support us the same way all over again.
Our whole industry is on a knife edge, which is why we’re doing everything we can to support our pubs – we replaced any out of date beer beer that any trade customer had in their cellar from before lockdown, free of charge, and we’re trying to make sure anyone who wants our beer can get it – a lot of folk weren’t expecting us to have beer ready but we did so were able to hit the ground running.
I think pubs will remember that we were able to support them when we were all facing a difficult time, in the same way I hope drinkers will remember they can always get our beer from our online shop.