• A new series of reports for Uckfield News takes a look at what’s happening behind the closed doors of businesses while the Coronavirus rages. This week we speak to Chris Vacher of Vacher Gardens.
Professional gardener Chris Vacher is still getting into his van every morning at 8am and going off to work but while he would normally be travelling with a team he is on his own because of the Coronavirus.
It is a surreal time too, because his business specialises in the maintenance of sports grounds, and, while the work continues with meticulous care, there’s no knowing whether ‘Vacher’ cricket pitches will be played on this summer.
Chris is grateful to his customers, clubs and domestic, for their support during this time. “They have been fantastic,” he says.
With the sports clubs he is taking advice from national organisations, such as the Institute of Groundsmanship and the English Cricket Board, and they have directed that essential maintenance continues with the turf kept in good condition so that sporting activity can recommence as, and when, it is safe to do so.
Chris says: “So the work is slightly reduced because we are not preparing for matches but the preparation we would normally do at this time of year to keep the grounds in good order is continuing.
“I’m sure the clubs will be keen to play, if only for a short period, once the go ahead is given.”
His business has been working with the clubs to find ways and means of continuing. Some of them rely heavily on junior income and, of course, that won’t be coming in this summer. They have lost sponsorship too.
Domestic customers are loyal and Chris is adjusting working practices to take account of Coronavirus restrictions.
He said “We have to do lone working, or social distancing if we are working together. We use separate tools in separate areas of a garden, and are very clinical with our hygiene and cleanliness of tools and equipment on customers’ properties.
“I have to say, from where I stand people have been great, and are pleased to see us.
“We work for quite a lot of older customers and have been offering to help them with other things they might need, bringing things like shopping and essential items when visiting.
“For some of our customers who are isolating alone we have been making more frequent visits, for shorter periods, because the contact time is really important to them.
“We are trying to be more than a gardening service during this period.”
Chris added: “It is hard. We had to make some tough decisions early on that younger staff be furloughed which means we are working with a reduced team. The problem was we used to travel together and use the same equipment.
“I’m in constant contact with them and sending photographs so they can see how their work over a very wet winter is paying off.”
A lot of the detailed garden work is being done by Jo Oulton who, Chris says, has been “really stoic” during this period.
He is doing a lot of the grounds work single-handedly, keeping the product good by spending longer hours, and more days, on the job.
Local companies were being helpful with deliveries. A delivery driver working on his own would drop a bulk delivery of top soil on a drive or Chris, having ordered by phone or online, would collect goods brought to a gate for him.
National companies were still supplying hedging and shrubs although they were slower than usual in delivering.
Compounding difficulties was a five-week period of drought, which began as the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed, and which followed one of the most challenging winters Chris remembers over the past ten years.
“It rained 120 days out of 150 and the boys, who put up with those conditions all winter are disappointed they can’t work now at a time they would see the fruits of their labour, particularly out on sports grounds with the excitement of getting things ready for play.
“I send them pictures and we speak regularly. I’m lucky that the guys we have would rather be at work than sat at home.”
When Chris spoke to Uckfield News he was taking a break from mowing at Sheffield Park. He was in total isolation, apart from his dog Chilly, having been given special access to the closed property.
“All I can hear in the background is the birds singing. It is a bit surreal doing all this work while wondering if there is going to be an end product.
“But I would be much more concerned, or more anxious, if we weren’t allowed access to the grounds because then all the work we have done over the years would be lost.
“Whether it’s a sports field, or beautiful domestic garden, if you have to leave it for a couple of months, then it is gone.”
Chris added: “I am fortunate to be going out in the van every morning at 8am. The only time I feel vulnerable to the virus is when I have to fill up with fuel. Other than that I am very careful with gates and the things people touch but when I am alone working in someone’s garden I am in a good situation.”
Best of all Chris knows that when the Coronavirus lockdown is lifted his team will be pleased to get back together and his customers are now continuing to see the benefit of all the work being done.
Read about the experiences of other businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic: