Working on the supermarket frontline: ‘It’s really encouraging to be recognised’
The supermarket workers recognised for going the extra mile in their local community
Elizabeth Simpson-Smith and Raynor Smith have balanced the uncertainty of working in a risk-laden environment while home-schooling and supporting their children. Photograph: Ruth Medjber
“There is a huge amount of uncertainty for us all and no one knows what the future holds,” says Elizabeth Simpson-Smith, who along with her husband, Raynor Smith, balances family life and their frontline careers as they both work at Tesco. “But we will continue to work hard and make time to stay connected with family. Whether that’s hanging balloons for birthdays, challenging each other to cook-offs of our favourite Master Chef recipes, enjoying virtual movie nights or tasting delicious home bakes over a video call with friends.
Elizabeth and her family have not only discovered but maintained this virtual connection with loved ones over the past year as more and more challenges arose throughout the pandemic.
“We always tell the kids that life is nothing but a dream,” she says, “and it’s that family motto that has carried us both through all aspects of our life over the past 12 months.”
With three children, Rual (14), Ryan (13) and Ruby (5), Elizabeth and Raynor have continued their commitment to their roles in Tesco Ireland. Recently, they took part in a portrait series shining a light on some of our frontline heroes. Nominated by their peers, and photographed by Ruth Medjber, who famously documented lockdown life behind ground-floor windows across Ireland, Elizabeth and Raynor were recognised for going the extra mile in their local community.
“Raynor and I don’t feel like anything we do is above and beyond what the rest of our colleagues have been doing day in, day out for the past 12 months,” says Elizabeth, “but it’s really encouraging to be recognised. We have both worked at Tesco for four years and while always committed to our customers and our colleagues, we found ourselves on the frontline operating in a rapidly changing environment. As the customer demand increased so too did our need to support those demands, with longer hours, early mornings, and late nights needed to ensure that food and essential supplies were readily available when we all needed them the most.”
As the pandemic unfolded and the lines between working and family life blurred, couples such as Elizabeth and Raynor balanced the uncertainty of working in a risk-laden environment while home-schooling and supporting their children.
“Going back to those early days last March, it was tough,” says Elizabeth, “but our top priority has always been our three children. We pride ourselves on creating a calm and happy home, so it was important for us that the kids didn’t pick up on any stress or anxiety. We knew we had to adapt quickly to the changes in our family life, but also in our working life and of course our social life. The future was very uncertain and there was a definite sense that this was going to be a long road and a real challenge.
“It’s been great to be part of a team that has really pulled together to get the job done. Even with social distancing, the team all still manage to have fun while doing our jobs.”
As the two-metre rule became an ordinary and accepted part of our everyday lives, Elizabeth was heavily aware of talking and connecting with patrons in a friendly yet safe manner. “We’ve had to be creative in the way we communicate with our customers,” she says, “For so many people, a trip to their local Tesco is the only real interaction they have with other people, particularly for those more vulnerable customers shopping in our store during priority shopping hours. I’m always very conscious of making good eye contact but similarly helping my kids understand the importance of developing their own safe interpersonal skills during these challenging times.”
We have had to be resilient and creative in the way we manage all aspects of our life, but the pandemic has only brought us closer together
Navigating a family of five is difficult for any parent, but the pandemic has added a new dimension to how we separate our family lives from the potential risk of infection for those on the frontline. “I know people have their opinions on it being referred to as the ‘new normal’, but for us, it has very much become just that,” says Elizabeth. “It is undoubtedly stressful and we are on the frontline of it every day, but there hasn’t been a moment where I have felt unsafe or unsupported at work or home. We have all missed out on certain aspects of family life because of Covid-19, but we have found a work-life balance that suits this new normal, and we know it’s not forever.”
The past year has provided an opportunity for us all to be mindful and conscious of how we live, to appreciate the people in our lives. It’s opened our eyes to recognise the value of the workers who take the risk to keep our stores stocked, and as such our fridge, the people who we perhaps took for granted before. They are the frontline who we need and should be grateful for. The frontline who are real people balancing careers along with family life during an intensely difficult period in our history.
“We do feel privileged to be able to get up and go to work every day and to be serving our local community so that we can support and provide for our family,” says Elizabeth. “We have had to be resilient and creative in the way we manage all aspects of our life, but the pandemic has only brought us closer together.
“We are committed to teaching our children the importance of hard work in our roles as mentors for life, but with the balance of also enjoying what you do. Life is what you make it and for us, one hour of sunshine gives us the cue to get the barbecue out for a family dinner with a difference. As South African Irish, we’re used to making the most of what we get weatherwise!”