Fruit farm hires 38 pickers out of 2,000 lockdown job enquiries

Norfolk fruit grower Tim Place is 'very pleased' with his new workforce after the firm was deluged w

Norfolk fruit grower Tim Place is 'very pleased' with his new workforce after the firm was deluged with 2,000 job enquiries following the Pick for Britain campaign. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE - Credit: Archant

A Norfolk fruit grower is pleased with his new picking team after a “fantastic” lockdown jobs appeal – but he said around 90pc of the 2,000 enquiries were discarded as they lived too far away.

Place UK at Tunstead, near North Walsham, needs more than 300 seasonal workers to pick and manage its 100ha of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blackberries.

Although some of its regular workforce arrived from eastern Europe before the lockdown, the company needed to recruit more people to replace those restricted from travelling from Romania and Bulgaria.

It was helped by the Pick for Britain campaign, launched by the government and endorsed by Prince Charles, which called for a new “Land Army” to step forward and save the harvest, including hospitality, retail and tourism workers who found themselves temporarily out of work.

But of the 2,000 enquiries received by Place UK, the majority came from outside the county and some even called from overseas – and the company needed people who could travel in for a 5am start without adding to the social distancing pressures at its accommodation.

Managing director Tim Place said 215 application forms were sent to the suitable Norfolk-based candidates, of which 79 were returned, resulting in 51 employment offers and 38 people actually starting the job.

But he is far from disappointed with the outcome.

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“We didn’t know what sort of situation we were going to be in,” he said. “We could have been completely closed down, so it is fantastic we have had this response and we are really pleased with the people who have joined us, and to see them working as hard as they are.

READ MORE: ‘We’ve not had British people working here for 20-odd years’ – Farm hails ‘legendary’ response to lockdown job appeal“It was a real mixed bag of people applying. There was one person wanting to commute from Cornwall, and there were people phoning from Dubai.

“There was a lot of goodwill, but I think a lot of people were just clicking on websites and not really looking where they were applying. But it was a fantastic response.

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“I am very pleased with the number of people who replied but we didn’t want to over-fill our accommodation here because of the social distancing rules, so we wanted people who could travel in every day with their own transport to comply with all the government regulations.”

Mr Place said a new manager had been employed to look after the new UK team, which started work at the end of May, and is a mixture of students and furloughed hospitality workers.

“It does take a few weeks to get new people up to speed, and that is why having returners coming back year after year is key to our business,” he said.

The company has now filled all its vacancies, but Mr Place added: “On paper we are OK at the moment, fingers crossed, but we realise things could change again.”

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