Look inside Amazon's North Derbyshire warehouse as employees detail how working life has changed during the pandemic

Workers at Amazon’s Barlborough fulfilment centre have opened up what it’s been like adapting to a new way of working in the warehouse during the pandemic.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 11:48 am

Since the e-commerce company opened its first Derbyshire distribution centre on High Hazels Road almost two years ago with 200 permanent employees, the warehouse has grown to accommodate 400 staff, alongside additional seasonal workers.

There are plans to increase the number of permanent employees at the 500,000 square foot Barlborough site to over 500 by the end of the year – after Amazon confirmed it aims to recruit 10,000 extra staff across the UK.

The online retail giant also announced on May 17 that it intends to open another ‘fulfilment centre’ in Leicestershire creating 700 permanent jobs and helping to form a ‘logistics hub’ around Derbyshire.

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David Ngaza is one of Amazon's Business Improvement Techniques apprentices.
David Ngaza is one of Amazon's Business Improvement Techniques apprentices.

It comes after two huge logistic hubs worth a total of £25 million recently opened at a new Markham Vale development, located just off Junction 29a near to Chesterfield.

Site leader Richard Cowlishaw-Ellison is responsible for the Barlborough warehouse which is the equivalent size of approximately seven Premier League football pitches.

The manager originally joined Amazon as a Christmas temporary worker 10 years ago and ended up trading his career in law to work his way up the ranks of the e-commerce company.

He shared what it has been like managing his team during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The fulfilment centre is approximately 500,000 square feet - the size of seven Premier League football pitches.

Richard said: "I think [the new Covid measures} were relatively easy to implement for us but I think the key thing was making sure during that period last year when Covid came and we went into a national lockdown, it was about implementing these measures, at speed and at pace to make sure our teams were safe throughout."

Employees are required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), face masks and use hand sanitiser, while the business also implemented one-way systems and thermal imaging cameras.

Staff have their temperature checked on arrival and can get tested at the on-site Covid-19 testing centre which opened in September 2020 where swabs are then sent off to Amazon’s laboratory in Manchester for analysis.

"We obviously announced last year that we encouraged people to take time off if they developed symptoms and we pay people while they are off under Covid, they get full pay to really encourage that and keep the area safe", the site leader added.

Amazon plans to recruit an extra 100 workers to the Barlborough distribution centre by the end of the year.

"Rather than people feeling like they need to come to work if they are ill, it is really important that people buy into the culture that we've got.

"Especially with the new people that we are bringing in and the seasonal hires, it is important to ensure that they understand what we need to do here to keep our team safe.”

Richard shared how ‘proud’ he is of the warehouse’s impact on the local community, after they donated £1,000 to Barlborough Primary School and also gave funds to Sherwood Oaks Gymnastics Academy to help provide them with a permanent home.

Apprentice David Ngaza has almost completed his qualification in Business Improvement Techniques, after joining the Amazon warehouse nearly 12 months ago.

Louise Gavan, from Newbold, juggles running her own wedding business with working at the warehouse.

He spent the last year learning about the different processes within the company, from receiving orders, to packing and shipping.

"In a positive way, it has been busy so it meant that we pretty much work as a team and we depend on each other”, the apprentice commented.

"The fortunate part of me going into different departments and learning about different roles, means I've actually met a few of the locals, who have all been affected by Covid-19 in different ways and most of them from highly skilled professions.

"The warehouse supports the community and gives them opportunities to break out of that monotonous element of being stuck indoors and stuck at home and they get to have new friends.”

Louise Gavan, from Newbold, started working at the warehouse in July last year after the pandemic put limitations on the opening of her new wedding venue The Courtyard Chesterfield.

She now juggles working in the centre’s shipping department alongside her own wedding business as restrictions start to lift.

The warehouse first opened in 2019.

Louise added: "I initially came for just four weeks just because we thought weddings were going to get back on track and that hasn't happened.

"So yes I am coming and keeping my business afloat financially by working here through the pandemic but it is also the enjoyment aspect as well, just being part of a team and from a mental health point of view, it has kept me going having Amazon to come through.

"It has been a kind of saving grace I suppose.”

After joining the distribution centre last year to work in the onsite virus testing facility, Abbie Binch has now transferred over to Amazon’s HR department.

She reflected on what it was like helping staff get tested during the height of the pandemic.

"Once someone had come once and they were a little bit apprehensive about actually having the test done, because they thought it hurt or something like that then they continued coming”, Abbie said.

"Having the test site in their working environment did give people peace of mind."

Andrew Milham, who is trained to use power industrialised trucks to pick hard-to-reach items off the high shelves, explained how additional hygiene practices have become almost like second nature now.

"I started in October 2019 so certain places you always cleaned down anyway, it was standard in packing to always clean your work station”, he commented.

"So it didn't actually seem that much of a difference, it is slightly more detail that you [clean] now, you just cover everywhere but I don't even really give it a second thought now - you clean it, switch it on and as you are waiting for it to boot up, you just clean the machine.”

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Andrew Milham joined the company in 2019 and is now a picker, who uses powered machines to get hard to reach items off the high shelves.
Abbie Binch started working in the warehouse's on-site Covid-19 testing unit last year.
Site leader Richard Cowlishaw-Ellison is responsible for the running of the fulfilment centre in Barlborough.
David Ngaza is one of Amazon's Business Improvement Techniques apprentices.