In my thirty years at Norbar, 2020 has undoubtedly been the most extraordinary. Our year has been shaped by Covid-19 so inevitably it is going to crop up extensively in this review. However, I will try not to make my review entirely about Covid-19!
Our Group VP for Safety visited Banbury and left behind a box of face masks. “What are these for” our MD asked? The answer; “This virus has the potential to become a big deal”. Back in January we had no idea just how accurate this prediction would prove to be.
Just a couple of weeks later, our Shanghai branch announced that they will be entirely closed for six weeks and we began to realise the impact that Covid might have.
We had lots of overseas visitors in January and, of course, they proved to be amongst the last of the year. We were pleased to welcome visitors from USA, Canada and Denmark.
As part of the national Time to Talk day, we launched our own mental health initiative, running workshops as part of our staff health and wellbeing programme.
Our annual Careers Open Evening took place on 6th February and was well received. Over 50 people toured our facility. Later in the year, two new apprenticeships were awarded including our first female technical apprentice for many years.
Our staff restaurant received a five-star rating from Cherwell District Council.
We attended our only exhibition of the year, the Subsea Expo in Aberdeen. It was the first time for us at this show and we concluded that we are likely to return when it is run again.
Several members of staff visit our group’s Leadership and “Rapid Continuous Improvement” Conference in Chicago. At the conference we received a number of awards, including an innovation award for our T-Box 2 torque measuring instrument.
We were planning to exhibit at the International Hardware exhibition in Cologne. Unfortunately, this event was postponed to February 2021 and later cancelled altogether. We will next attend this exhibition in March 2022.
9th March: the first of many staff briefings on Coronavirus. At the time, the NHS were advising that the risk to the UK public was moderate. We started to carefully risk-assess overseas travel. By 16th March we began to contemplate the possibility that we might be obliged to suspend operations in Banbury.
23rd March: UK national lockdown is announced by the PM. Initially it is unclear whether industrial companies can continue to operate or not. Our interpretation that we could continue, with many safety measures put in place, was later confirmed to be the correct one by Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Remarkably considering Covid-19, our first quarter 2020 turned out to be a satisfactory one. April was a quiet month in many ways with most of the country and much of Europe and beyond under some degree of lock-down.
We passed our ISO 50001 audit, Energy Management Systems and we had successfully implemented the revised, 2018 version of the standard.
May and June
Some good news at a difficult time: we receive an “A” supplier rating from our largest customer. The reward was for our commitment to quality and delivery reliability.
Our staff restaurant partially re-opened in June offering a takeaway service only. This was a great relief for many of us and meant that we no longer had to go offsite to buy a takeaway lunch with the possible Covid exposure that involved.
Above – about to make a delivery to the local food bank.
July and August
We passed our aviation security audit by the CAA.
Restaurant services were carefully expanded to include a limited hot food service. We registered for the “eat out to help out” scheme which turned out to be quite innovative for staff restaurants!
We replaced our giant, 270,000 litre water tank that supplies the sprinkler system. It took three days to drain and was replaced with an even larger one!
We bid a sad farewell to our Head of Sales and 30-year service veteran, Stuart Clarke. However, our loss is the group’s gain as Stuart is promoted to VP of Sales at SNA Europe.
HS2 (high speed 2 – Britain’s new high speed railway line under construction) comes to town with warnings of traffic disruption on the road that all Norbar traffic must use.
We announced an order for new CNC machines, primarily targeted at improving our capacity for large diameter components.
September and October
A socially distanced MacMillan Coffee Morning took place and was well supported by staff.
Our annual employee health screening was launched with a good take up resulting in more slots being added than we originally anticipated.
4-way screens were introduced on large tables in the staff restaurant allowing some degree of lunchtime socialising in safety. We planned for a revised, Covid-safe Long Service Evening in October but in the event, even that was not able to go ahead.
We agreed to, once again, support one of our marvellous local charities, Dogs for Good, by sponsoring a puppy through her training to become an assistance dog. The puppy, a golden retriever, is named Carla and we will report on her progress via social media.
Assistance dog of the future, Carla
26th October: we were concerned that Oxfordshire might be moved to Covid alert level 2 and started to look at the implications of this. As it happened, only Oxford was moved to tier 2 and then, a week later, everything changed again!
November and December
We found ourselves in lock-down again but at least this time it was clear that industry should continue, with safety measures in place and people working from home where they could effectively do so.
We should have been attending the ADIPEC exhibition in Abu Dhabi but the inevitable finally happened. The event got postponed to November 2021 - not cancelled - despite the fact that ADIPEC has occurred in November each year for as long as we can remember.
Our Christmas raffle, with a difference, is announced. No touring ticket sellers this year. We also had to find an alternative to the traditional staff Christmas lunch in our restaurant. On 10th and 11th December, we took part in the Christmas Jumper Day in support of Save the Children.
23rd December, we find that Oxfordshire will be in Tier 4 from 26th December. From a work point of view, it doesn’t make a huge difference but we need to re-focus on “hands – face – space”. It is mostly in our lives outside of work that the impact will be felt.
24th December, we have a trade deal with the EU! Whether it will be one that can bring the country back together remains to be seen. Already there is concern about the lack of coverage in the deal for our services industries and the fishing industry quickly condemned it as a sell-out. None the less, we have a point from which to move forward. Whether there will be chaos on the boarders due to the new paperwork and lack of staff will be hard to judge seeing as there is already chaos at the boarder resulting from Covid!
Writing this in early January, my 2020 review is completely up to date. I am reflecting on an extraordinary year, the likes of which we hope never to see again. The Oxford vaccine joins the Pfizer vaccine this week, being administered through a variety of sites, and all that we can hope for is a rapid and effective role out – and not just in the UK, of course. To get nearly 15 million people vaccinated in the UK by mid-February is an incredibly ambitious target but one that seems essential if we are to be released from lockdown in the second quarter.
Wishing everyone a safe and healthy New Year.