Tesco Ireland acknowledges frontline colleagues ‘Behind the Screens’ as nation marks significant COVID-19 milestone
14 March 2021
Partnering with renowned Irish photographer Ruth Medjber to capture the Real Stories of the Real People serving their local communities right across Ireland
As the nation marks one year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tesco Ireland has released a series of portraits shining a light on some of the frontline heroes who have been recognised for going the extra mile in their local community. Operating in a rapidly changing environment this year, Tesco colleagues have been working tirelessly to ensure that food and essential supplies are readily available to customers right across the network of 151 stores nationwide, when their customers needed them most.
Ireland’s largest food retailer engaged leading Irish photographer and author Ruth Medjber, who has been documenting lockdown life behind ground-floor windows in Ireland, to capture the ‘the real stories of the real people behind the screens’ at Tesco Ireland.
Commenting on the importance of recognising the unsung heroes across its distribution centres, stores and delivery networks, Tesco Ireland Communications Director, Rosemary Garth, said: “Our colleagues make us the organisation we are today. We’re acknowledging their commitment, resilience and hard work by showcasing some of our dedicated team members across the country. The colleagues included in this collection are a representation of our wider team and show how we live our value - no one tries harder for customers. We were thrilled to partner with Ruth as we approached the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. I hope people enjoy the images and stories.”
Photographer Ruth Medjber added: “They turned up for work every day, even in the most uncertain of times and I had the pleasure of chatting with some of the people who work in Tesco stores and warehouses around Ireland.
I had asked to speak with characters, kind folk, people who had done good deeds or battled through difficult times with great strength…and that’s exactly who I met. Hailed as our frontline heroes, they home-schooled, they suffered with personal tragedies and loss, they dealt with everything that 2020 threw at them and they still managed to be there for their colleagues and their customers when they needed them most. I’ve been truly refreshed and inspired by this project and have gained a whole new perspective on the people behind the screens in my local Tesco store!”
Tesco recently celebrated its fourth year being ranked as a Great Place to Work. This recognition, as one of Ireland’s Best Workplaces, and a Best Workplace for Women, was marked over the past number of weeks by a selection of colleagues appearing in a Tesco Ireland advertising campaign. The initiative recognises the hard work of over 13,000 colleagues right across the business.
Since March, Tesco has worked hard to maintain a safe shopping environment for colleagues and customers through a number of measures:
- Social distancing and queue management technology introduced at all 151 stores nationwide
- 391 individual hand sanitiser units were installed with over 130,000 litres of hand sanitiser used to date, which is enough to fill 817 bathtubs
- Over 22,000 square meters of plexiglass screens were installed, enough to cover the Aviva Stadium pitch three times over
- Over 750,000 face coverings have been provided to colleagues, to date
- Scan as you Shop technology was installed in 76 stores to support customers with an even more efficient shop, while enabling customers to manage their budget as they go
- Doubled grocery home shopping service and expanded Click and Collect by adding 11 new locations
Notes to Editor:
Ruth captured the real stories of the real people behind the screens at Tesco stores and warehouses around Ireland. Here are some snippets from their conversation.
Aoife Funge, Customer Assistant, Customer Service, Tesco Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin
“You can just tell when a customer is dying to talk to you. You might be their only contact all day, so I make sure to chat to them that little bit longer.”
It’s not often you find someone so young who is extraordinarily compassionate and considerate. Aoife likes to carry the shopping out to a customer’s car if she thinks they need a little extra help or a little longer chat. One day, after an elderly lady took her up on her offer of company to the car park, it was only when outside that Aoife realised that the customer didn’t have a car and simply wanted to chat. Aoife walked with her the short journey home and continues to walk her home every week.
David Johnson, Customer Assistant, Tesco Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin
The first thing I noticed about David is that everybody knows him. Customers walking by our photoshoot yell “looking good Davey” and “we always knew you were famous”.
He’s sweet and hilarious. He tells me stories that were in the news yesterday and stories that were in the news 23 years ago when he started working in Tesco. He had me hanging on every word of his amazing tales and wouldn’t let me leave without a selfie. “Have you ever been to Bushy Park?” he asks, “I think you’d like it, take a break and go”. It seems to be in his nature to have other people’s interests at heart. Just like he does when wiping down the trolleys for everyone that comes in.
Elizabeth & Raynor Simpson Smith, Customer Assistant, Tesco Swords, Co. Dublin
To say that Elizabeth has a positive outlook on life would be an understatement. She says the key to having a good life is to simply choose to be happy, and that while bad things will happen, if you learn from them, they’ll be worth it in the end.
Much like myself, Elizabeth could talk for Ireland, while her husband Raynor – who works on the Fresh Team in the same store, is happy to sit by her side and listen to her chat away. She likes to tell the story of how they met. She locked eyes with him across a room at a birthday party back home in South Africa and instantly knew he was the one…. she tells it, and even under his mask, I can see that Raynor is blushing. I’ve nicknamed them the “King and Queen of Tesco”.
Robert Wojtyla, Warehouse Operative, Tesco Distribution Centre, Donabate, Co. Dublin
Robert’s shift ends at 2pm and at ten past two he’ll be at the school gates waiting to collect his twins. That’s the benefit of shift work, he says. But right now, at 1.45pm, he’s standing with me in this vast workplace, loving the limelight and cracking jokes with all his colleagues that beep their forklifts at him as they pass us by.
With the scale of Tesco’s Dublin Distribution Centre challenging the grandeur of the Vatican, it’s easy to understand how Robert is so comfortable in this limelight as I later discovered that he’s in-fact a distant relation of Pope John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła)
John Williams, Customer Assistant, Tesco Tralee, Co. Kerry
I chatted with John about everything, about travel (he gave me tips for his birthplace, Kenya), about health (he’s a big advocate of Vitamin C and D3 and makes sure everyone he cares about, including his colleagues, are eating right).
We talked about the importance of family and how sometimes when you’re faced with loss and tragedy in your life, you gain a new perspective and learn to prioritise things differently, like your job. However important, these things can still offer you great solace. Your job can become a place to escape and something to occupy your mind.
Even though Covid made his personal circumstances so much harder, John still came to work and offered support to his friends who were struggling. He’s a self-proclaimed “messer”, finding new ways to make those around him smile even in the darkest times. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone as strong as John and I’ll be forever grateful he shared his story with me.
Ger Lynch, Store Manager, Tesco Edenderry, Co. Offaly
Ger started out 17 years ago as a Security Guard and is now a Store Manager. All those years ago, his manager saw something in him and encouraged him to drive forward. Now, that’s exactly what Ger champions in his store.
He is all about giving his staff the space, encouragement, and opportunities to grow, it’s his modus operandi. He tells me that when he retires, it’s not going to be sales targets that he’ll be most proud of but seeing people do well in their lives. He points out that nobody starts a new job wanting it to be a negative experience, so he tries to harness that positivity from the start and allow people to enjoy their jobs.
Mental health is a big factor in that and to keep spirits up in 2020 and distract from Covid, Ger started a fitness challenge for the team. It meant that people were communicating, exercising, getting fresh air, and focusing on some positive elements of their day, all while raising money for charity. I can only imagine how proud Ger’s old boss must be, seeing this former security guard do so much good for so many people.
Sonata Burbaite, Systems Lead Co-Ordinator, Tesco Distribution Centre, Donabate, Co. Dublin
Sonata is the kind of loving person that, rather than leave her beautiful dog in boarding kennels, took extra time off work and drove all the way to Lithuania so the dog could join her in the car.
She has ambition, drive and unbelievable levels of enthusiasm. She worked on the warehouse floor and tried all the different shifts and different roles and now she wants to climb the management ladder. When I asked if she’d ever consider the shop floor and working with customers, she says she’d love to try anything and everything as long as she gets to chat with people every day.
Peter Somers, Customer Assistant - Customer Service Desk, Tesco Jervis, Co. Dublin
Peter is the welcoming face of the Jervis Tesco Metro store that everyone looks for.
He moved from the checkout to the customer service desk where his love of the banter could truly shine. When I realised that he and I lived close to each other, I asked him why he wouldn’t prefer to work in a store closer to his home. “You wouldn’t get the people you get in here; Jervis has its own magic” and he’s right. All throughout our shoot we had lots of characters popping up to us, posing for photos of their own and telling me all about how Peter should be “Employee of the Month” every month! It seems they love him as much as he loves them.
Rory Rushe, Lead Co-Ordinator, Tesco Distribution Centre, Donabate, Co. Dublin
Rory went from farming to working in the 11th biggest building in the world, the Tesco Distribution Centre. He says he tends to forget about how huge the place is as he’s been working here so long, but when he’s showing new recruits around during induction he’s reminded of the scale as they always gasp when looking around.
He says some of those new trainees will be full of endless questions, asking about every small detail while others will be completely silent. He knows to check in with the quiet ones after they’ve settled in, as that’s when they’re more comfortable and the questions will pour out.
I suspect that this awareness and kindness is a part of who he is, and the reason he was put forward for this project. It’s apparent in the way he offers to carry my equipment for me, as we walk from one end of the long warehouse to the other.
Chris Shaw, Grocery Home Shopping Driver, Tesco Maynooth, Co. Kildare
I couldn't help but smile when Chris (a driver) tells me he feels as though he was born to travel. So much so that he's made it his life's work. He's much happier when he's moving, even his holidays are cruises. Although, surprisingly, it's not the driving that's the best part of his job, but the customers. During COVID he began to see the regulars on his route more often and knowing full well that these people may not have left the house in months or have had many people to chat to, he'd be only too happy to stop moving for a moment and listen to their stories.