Parcels ‘through the roof’ and lonely shielders: delivery drivers’ busy year

ome have got sore feet delivering 180 parcels in a day, others were met by grateful customers offering a tip, while still more found themselves becoming one of the few links to the outside world for people shut up in their homes this year.

But what unites delivery drivers is how uncommonly demanding 2020 has been, as the Covid pandemic drove ever more people to online shopping.

“The parcels have gone through the roof and have stayed at that level for the duration, it has been like Christmas every week,” one Royal Mail worker in the Hebrides told the Guardian this year.

And that was before Christmas actually arrived. “It has literally tripled,” said Elley Justelley, who has driven for Hermes and other firms in Cornwall. She said she was busy in February if she delivered 60 parcels in a day. During the first lockdown, she said, she was dealing with more like 120. The most was 181 parcels in a single day in November.

Patrick Whetman, who delivers for Hermes, said he had to give up part of his round because he feared the pressure to deal with the volume of parcels he was seeing risked endangering his health.

“I feel like I can do my job better now that I’ve got less pressure. But there are a lot of other people who cannot afford to risk dropping part of their work because, when it goes quiet again, the likelihood is that somebody else has taken that work and they won’t ever get it back again,” he said.

One Royal Mail worker from Glasgow, who declined to be named, said: “For posties like me, the couple of weeks or so running up to Christmas are ‘the pressure’. The parcel volumes were already like Christmas. Now they are increasing. It is becoming difficult to actually fit them all in our vans. ‘We’re going to need a bigger van/boat’ is heard every day.”

Royal Mail said: “Our postmen and postwomen have gone the extra mile throughout the pandemic to keep friends, families, communities and businesses connected in difficult times. Local managers continue to support our people in managing the workload as fairly and effectively as we can.”

Whetman delivers on an “extreme rural route” in north-west Wales, which takes him down lanes that are impassable for his van, including a path that runs below the high tide line and down on to the beach, meaning he has often to swap his van for a bicycle.

Illustrating the strain the job has been putting on people, Whetman said he had been attacked and bitten by dogs twice while trying to deliver packages to customers. Thankfully, he did not need medical attention. But he said he feared having to deliver to those same customers in future.

For Justelley, the worst were the customers who just ignored her. “They literally will completely blank you. They answer the door and just take the parcel or without even saying ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’ or anything and just slam the door in your face.”

To those who do want to talk though, delivery drivers can “act as a low-key social worker”, Whetman said.

The Royal Volunteer Service, which is running a campaign to help people lacking social contact, said delivery drivers had “been a welcome new source of company for a lot of people who are isolating or living alone this year”.

Sam Ward, its deputy chief executive, said: “They have provided truly valuable conversation, as even the shortest exchanges can lift someone’s spirits and remind them that they aren’t alone.”

Ahmir Hussain, who delivers for Sainsbury’s in east London, said: “Most of the deliveries are to elderly people. Some of them are isolating and it’s just good to talk to them, ask how their day is and share their experiences. You are making a difference to someone else’s life.”

He delivered to one elderly couple who had been isolating together for much of the year and had not been able to see their grandchildren in person. “That really got me. It’s quite sad, isn’t it? It is touching and amazing because everyone has been affected in their own way.”

Whetman said some people had been so friendly they had offered to tip him. Justelley said the customers could be the highlight of the job. “The best experience I’ve had is one of the customers, lovely old couple, and they said there’s a toilet at the back, you can use it any time. Even if you’re not working on the round, just pop in and use it.”

The same couple even gave her a standing invitation to come in and help herself to an ice lolly as she toiled through the hot summer months, saying there would always be enough for her in the freezer.

“The thing I really enjoy about the job is talking to people,” Whetman said. “Talking about their problems … sometimes, it is just really nice to have a laugh with people – you can cheer people up … That’s really what makes the job for me.”

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