THE importance of the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon borough as a logistics hub for Northern Ireland has been brought into focus with hauliers working hard to keep the Northern Ireland economy moving during the coronavirus pandemic.
Logistics companies have introduced strict health and safety protocols to maintain operations during the lockdown, with the two main industrial estates of Carn and Seagoe – which together account for £2.7 billion worth of annual GVA – particularly busy.
Medical supplies, food and other essential goods have been kept on the move throughout the lockdown to ensure the health service is equipped to tackle the virus and to keep the lockdown population fed.
Seamus Leheny, Policy Manager at the Northern Ireland Freight Transport Association, said the sector has stepped up when needed most.
“The logistics industry in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon borough has risen to the challenge in ensuring vital supply chains have remained intact and resulted in food in our shops, medical supplies to health services and ensuring essential manufacturing is kept operational,” he said. “Our drivers, warehouse workers, planners and managers continue to work tirelessly on the frontline in today’s unprecedented challenge in ensuring goods keep moving and have shown their worth to not just the economy but the wider community.”
The anecdotal evidence is backed up by the latest report from business advisory EY which, in its look at the potential impact on a range of industries during the COVID-19 outbreak, said the logistics sector will benefit from the increase use of e-commerce and delivery over the next few weeks.
In order to meet demand, the sector has had to introduce its own safety measures to ensure employees and customers are kept safe as it continues to operate.
Derry Refrigerated Transport, headquartered in Craigavon, and its sister company Carn Coldstore, services the food industry – which has been particularly busy during the lockdown period - providing chilled and frozen storage and distribution for companies throughout the island of Ireland.
It said it actioned its operational contingency plans as soon as the threat came to light, with some staff working from home and essential staff split across three sites.
Driver protection has been one of the most important focuses since the start.
Derry Group Managing Director Patrick Derry said: “Things changed very quickly. Customer sites and our sites quite rightly implemented exceptional measures to protect staff but it also meant that drivers did not have access to the same facilities.
“We immediately placed a large order for sanitisers and lorry cab cleaner and thankfully we have been in a position to give our drivers sufficient cleaning materials for cabs and hand sanitisers for themselves. Drivers have embraced any protection measures that we have put in place including checking their temperature when they come on site. I never imagined a day that I would have my temperature checked coming into work but these are the times we are in.”
The company has also been doing its bit to help ease the burden for staff and families with children in the nearby Craigavon Area Hospital by dropping off toiletries and snacks at the Blossom Unit.
“This morning we dropped off our first ‘rescue box’, filled with basic snacks individually wrapped and wipeable, together with toiletries for staff and family members,” Patrick Derry said. “We will continue to fill the boxes on a weekly basis during this time. We hope this gesture goes some way to making someone’s day a little easier.”
Councillor Mealla Campbell, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, said: “We have a fleet of fantastic logistics companies in the borough which work hard under normal circumstances as an essential part of the Northern Ireland and global economy. It is heartening to see them step up to this extraordinary challenge so quickly, all the while caring for the safety of their staff and customers.”