Small and independent shops in Bicester have not had it easy in recent years, the number of empty sites along Sheep Street and elsewhere in town is testament to our changing buying habits. Big out of town sites, like Tesco, and the near unstoppable growth of internet shopping has seen us turn our backs on local retailers in favour of supposedly cheaper and more convenient alternatives. This was a trend long before 2020, but the pandemic has, to a certain extent, accelerated the growth of online shopping and the number of delivery vans whizzing around our streets. But it need not be this way and and it need not be the final nail in the coffin of the high street.
Under the COVID lockdown rules it has become the default to have goods delivered to your home, but do they have to come from Amazon and out of town? and do they have to be delivered by diesel van? Together with independent local business, Coles Books, a few intrepid volunteers from BicesterBUG wanted to provide a local and sustainable alternative. Coles was already offering a limited informal local delivery service and has the advantage of daily deliveries from their book distributor, meaning that ‘amazon like’ delivery times were in fact feasible. So together with the forward thinking owner of Coles, Nigel French, we cooked up a scheme to use local bike riders to expand the offering of local deliveries, with a sustainable twist. Then the lockdown hit and the idea suddenly became not just a nice to have experiment but a crucial way to enable the business.
After a brief hiatus of the deepest part of the 1st lockdown and as the restrictions relaxed, we resurrected the bike delivery idea, and realised its time had truly come, out of the crisis we could do some good. So Coles launched the offer of free local delivery and BicesterBUG members provided the means to get the book deliveries out to customers, not just within Bicester but also the neighbouring villages (Chesterton, Ambrosden, Arncott, Fringford)
“Wow that was fast I only ordered it an hour ago”
“Such a great idea”
“Just like the old days of butcher’s boys and paper deliveries”various customer reactions, abridged
Little did we know how much fun it would be and how appreciative the customers were. Sometimes we were met with slight confusion at the doorstep, probably due to the lack of uniform and rumbling diesel van in the background. The overwhelming feedback was positive both in terms of the sustainability of our little enterprise but also the cold hard fact that it made good business sense. We were able to deliver faster, more flexibly and with a significantly lower carbon footprint (we run on tea and biscuits 😉 than the alternatives, be that ordering from Amazon, Coles sending by a traditional courier or even customers driving to the town centre to pick up the book.
As of the end of 2020 we have delivered over 250 packages for Coles, most of the packages containing multiple books and, as can be seen below from the increase in deliveries in December, many Christmas presents.
Sadly we have put the deliveries on hold since the start of the lockdown in 2021, but we hope to start again as soon as we can. This may seem like a tiny gesture in the grand scheme of things, but it represents to BicesterBUG and wider Bicester the shape of things to come. In Oxford the indefatigable Pedal & Post company are running multiple bikes throughout the city making not only traditional deliveries but also carrying medical samples and supplies between the hospitals. Their reactiveness and ability to cut through traffic makes them highly competitive and sustainable, proving that bikes are valuable business tools not just toys. Even the big boys like DHL and UPS are joining the bike logistic revolution providing the type of win win business we need going forward. So hopefully here in humble Bicester we can also be part of the green shoots of recovery as we Build Back Better post Covid.
- Heartfelt thanks to our volunteers on the bike delivery service:
- Rick Hughes
- George Bennett
- Corrine M
- Michelle B
- Susan W
- Marion B