‘All we want is to be safe’: Staff at health food store campaign to close over coronavirus

Holland & Barrett, in Sheringham. Pic: Holland & Barrett

Holland & Barrett, in Sheringham. Pic: Holland & Barrett

Workers at Holland & Barrett, with shops across the region, have launched a fight to close during coronavirus.

Almost 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Russian billionaire owner of the store to close its 750 outlets which have remained open because they are deemed to sell ‘essential’ items.

Stores are currently open, albeit for reduced hours, across Norfolk including in Norwich, Dereham, Diss and King’s Lynn and in Suffolk, in Ipswich, Stowmarket, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds.

But some staff are against having to work, stating customers are purchasing things like ‘flapjack and sticks of liquorice’ - not essential items. They have launched a petition urging for closure.

Holland & Barrett maintain they are protecting staff and have implemented many safety procedures as well as improving its online service and setting up a helpline for people who need home delivery.

MORE: Big high street store seeks £120m pandemic crisis loan

But some staff say the firm has not been providing them with hand washes, anti-bacterial gels and other form of protection.

“The stores need to be closed, so we not only keep ourselves safe but also the nation. All we want is to be safe and be with our loved ones during this period of crisis.”

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A spokeswoman from Holland & Barrett issued this statement: “As a health, wellness and speciality food retailer, we have been advised by the government that we fall within the list of retailers that are expected to remain open. This relates to the fact that 90% of what we sell is food, vitamins and food supplements, which many of our customers rely on to manage their dietary or underlying conditions.

“For example: pregnant women in need of folic acid supplementation, coeliacs, those with milk and egg allergies, those outlined by the government as ‘at-risk’ groups in need of vitamin D supplementation and those caring for customers with compromised immune systems. We have provided gloves, masks and hand sanitiser to all of our store colleagues and have also installed shielding screens at the counter. Social distancing is also being enforced with clear guidance in store. We have limited the maximum number of customers allowed in the stores at any one time, dependant on store size, and tape has been installed marking out a two metre distance from the tills.

“We are bolstering our online capacity as quickly as possible so customers can order from home and have set also up a new customer phone line for those who cannot access our website for home delivery.”

Holland & Barrett was bought for £1.8 billion in 2017 by a retail investment fund controlled by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.

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