The Wine Society, which announced last week that it was temporarily closing for the first time in its 146-year history, is planning a phased reopening in the coming weeks. 

In a letter to the Society’s members, chairman Sarah Evans, said: “Not even during the World Wars did we have to pause operations. But so serious is the current threat to the health of our staff, their families, our members and by extension the NHS that we were clear that this was the responsible step to take. 

“The message from the Government has varied a little over the last week and online businesses can stay open. But ‘can stay open’ is not the same as ‘must stay open’ and surely, for non-essential services it really means ‘can stay open if the working environment and way of working allows your staff to stay safe’. 

“At the first announcement of ‘lockdown’ on March 23, it was immediately evident to us that without some significant changes to the way we work, our warehouse teams could not work in a safe way.

“Pausing for a time with a temporary closure of our operations has allowed our chief executive, Steve Finlan and his team time to assess our warehouse systems, layout and processes, and to identify comprehensive changes which will create an environment where we can be fully confident about safety. Our operation is largely manual and involves thousands of people’s movements each day, which adds huge complexity.

“I am pleased to say that the changes needed to the way we work are nearing completion and Steve hopes to be in touch soon with news of a phased reopening, albeit for a reduced service.”

Evans added that she was pleased by the progress made so far by the company and confident about the new plans. 

She said: “The Society has strong values and a loyal and longstanding staff and we will not compel anyone to work. We are currently busy identifying a group of volunteers, happy with the new processes that we have designed, who can provide a satisfactory level of service without the need for regular closure and suspension. 

“There is no script to follow in this unprecedented challenge we all face. What Steve, and now I in this note are trying to do, is to share the situation as we see it and explain to members what we are doing on their behalf to keep the, and our staff, safe.

“The Committee is fully behind the actions we have taken to date, though I am sorry not every member agrees with everything. Please let me assure you that we all want to see The Society open for business again very soon.”

Before the Wine Society announced it was temporary closing (March 24), head of buying, Pierre Mansour, told DRN the company had been experiencing demand equivalent to the levels it sees at Christmas, but without having planned for it.

He said the first priority for the company is protecting its staff. He said: “We are putting their health and wellbeing first.”