06:45 – It’s a cold morning in Quedgeley – and still dark! The drivers and drivers’ mates are already arriving at our premises. Dave Holmes, Transport Assistant, hands out the routes for the day. These routes are plotted the day before using sophisticated software which calculates the most efficient route for each van based on all the drop-off points, the number of deliveries, traffic conditions, and environmental considerations. I try not to get in the way.
07:15 – Sunrise over the warehouse!
My team for today – driver Alan and driver’s mate Craig – begin to load the van methodically, carefully positioning worktops in order. I try not to get in the way.
07:30 – And we’re off. It’s cosy to say the least! With apologies, I sandwich myself between the two members of the delivery team as we begin the drive to Hereford. Traffic is very bad at this time of the morning, but it’s nice to see how courteous our driver is – there’s a particularly sticky junction and though he could push ahead he waits patiently, leaving plenty of space so that extra people can get through. What a gent!
08:20 – Craig makes his first phone call to let the customer know we will be arriving within 30 minutes. No answer on this occasion. ‘I’ll always leave a voicemail in those instances, if I can,’ he says. ‘And if I can’t get through to speak to the customer directly I tend to call the office straight after to let them know I’ve tried, just in case the customer calls the office wondering where we are.’
08:45 – First drop in Hereford is on an industrial estate and we soon realise that there are several Units named 3b! No problem: we simply stop in at one of the businesses on the estate and ask for directions. We arrive at the correct unit shortly after, well within our timeslot.
09:10 – On we go to our next stop, which is also in Hereford. Gotta love route optimisation! Craig phones the customer right away to let her know we are en route.
09:45 – A hop, skip and a jump and we’re here. Quick delivery this time; just two worktops, straight in through the backdoor into the kitchen. The kind customer offers us all a cup of tea but we can’t stop: places to go, deliveries to make!
10:20 – Back on the road and we’re on our way to Newport. Unfortunately the rain has decided to join us: it’s coming thick and fast, fogging up the windscreen and turning the motorway into pea-soup. ‘Not my favourite weather to drive in,’ Alan confesses, ‘Last week was even worse! Floods everywhere. We have to be really careful because of all the kit we carry and the vans themselves are valuable vehicles: I never take any chances when it comes to deep water.’
11:30 – The path to our destination has become increasingly twisty and turny as it becomes clear that we are delivering to a more rural area. Bumpy, too. We bounce around in the van like jelly beans – and it’s at that moment that ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ comes on the radio. Alan turns it up. ‘Just wait ’til you hear my singing,’ he laughs. ‘Voice of an angel, me!’
Our travels take us on all sorts of roads!
11:50 – After a jolly sing-song we arrive – though Craig pretends to cover his ears as Alan finishes another ‘angelic’ chorus! The house is on a steep hill and there’s a sharp turn into the driveway so Alan has had to perform some nifty manoeuvring to reverse the van in while leaving room for the pair to unload.
View from the customer’s drive – and the narrow road our driver had to manoeuvre in. A beautiful but confined space!
The customer comes out straight away; she’s pleased that Craig’s half an hour call was accurate, as she’s had time to get the house ready. We unload as swiftly as possible, taking care not to expose the worktops to the elements. The rain is now torrential!
12:20 – Lunch time! We’re rather cold and wet when we clamber back into the van so we head for the nearest service station to dry off. My homemade, by-now-rather-soggy ham sandwich doesn’t look nearly as appetising as the McDonald’s burgers my colleagues are enjoying… but I manage to resist. Just.
1:30 – ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder booms from the radio and by now we’re well on our way, heading back from Wales to Gloucestershire.
The trusty sat nav provides a good back up to our printed route.
1.45 – Half an hour call time: Craig gets through to the customer, who is pleased to hear that we will be with him shortly.
2.05 – Our hearts sink as we pull up to a beautiful house in Avening… but the front door is on the first floor, up some narrow, steep steps! Due to health and safety reasons the drivers and drivers’ mates can only deliver to the ground floor: no worktop/stair manoeuvres allowed. Then we all breathe a sigh of relief as the customer hurries down the stairs to meet us, before clicking a button to open the downstairs garage door, in which the worktops will be stored temporarily. What excellent preparation. We love our customers!
Easy peasy, simple pimple (though the guys doing the heavy lifting might not agree)
2.15 – Reusable packaging (the white covering you can see in the picture above) safely stowed back in the van, we set off again. Next stop: Cheltenham. Time for Craig to make another call!
3.45 – Two quick drops in Cheltenham and one in Gloucester later, and we’re on our way back to base. All the deliveries today have been completed with remarkable smoothness. Seems too good to be true… or is it? When we get back I ask Phil Allright, Transport Manager, whether I was just lucky. He smiles. ‘I’d say you had an extremely normal day on the vans – unless a big flood or a blizzard gets chucked our way, we’re normally very happy with how everything’s gone. Our customers are great, our service does what it says on the tin – what’s not to like?’