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From Stoke to Warsaw

Roy Frost, Listers MD, discusses why they decided to fill a lorry with goods to help ease the unfolding refugee crisis on the Ukrainian/Polish border.

Our unscheduled trip to Ukraine at the beginning of March was, well, just that. Running a multi-site fabrication business comes with enough challenges to fill the average day, without needing more distractions.

But sometimes, you simply can’t say no. And I’m glad we didn’t.

I arrived at work on the Monday morning, just as the gruesome situation in Ukraine was starting to unfold. Some of the guys in the factory came up to me and said: “You know Roy, everyone is feeling pretty down about this – it has affected a lot of people. Is there anything we can do to help the unfolding refugee crisis?”

At the time, I think they were talking about 1.2 million displaced people. The majority of whom were coming into Poland. And we’ve got a Polish HR manager, who was also keen to do the right thing.

So, we sat down and had a look at the situation, and very quickly we decided to mobile our resources to collect items that would be needed by families fleeing a war.

We’ve got social media channels, we’ve got 150 employees on site in Stoke on Trent, 150 employees in Essex. So, we put out the message that we needed items like nappies, water, toothpaste, etc. These people are coming over the border with just the coats on their backs. Everyone’s being very generous, offering them housing, etc. But we thought we could be more agile by taking this stuff down there immediately.

So, we did that very quickly. We went on the radio, we made an appeal to bring stuff to Listers as we became a collection point. We sorted it all out, and we labelled it properly. So, when it arrived at the other end it could be distributed quickly.

I decided I should go out there personally because I wanted to understand the challenge. I wanted to know that we were doing the right thing, and that they wanted the stuff we were sending. 

We found that they didn’t want clothes, for instance. And we had taken clothes. Instead, they wanted essential items such as food that could be heated up instantly, and female hygiene products, etc. So, going out to see what was happening was really important for us. 

I arrived in the middle of Warsaw at 9:30 on Saturday evening. We found ourselves unloading our vehicle in a dark warehouse, and the volunteers working for Polska 2050 were putting the goods into the boots of their cars. They would then drive to the border to meet the Ukrainian refugees as they came across the border. 

So, I saw the whole process first-hand: we received the donated goods at the factory, we sorted the products, loaded up the vehicles, and drove out to Poland immediately. It all happened within 72 hours. 

When we came home, we were able to pass on what we learned to other companies wanting to help out way. I put up a post on LinkedIn, and about ten different companies phoned me – some I knew, some I didn’t – and I was able to give them advice, such as which products were needed.

I was also able to explain the T1 customs procedure. Like many companies in our industry, we are not an exporter, so all of that was new to us, but we could pass that information on to others who had to go through the same process.

We also introduced them to the charity we hooked up with – Polska 2050 – so we’ve been a bit of a dating agency to make sure that products can get collected, get delivered, get driven over. 

And I think there are another eight or nine companies, to my knowledge, now doing the same thing, which I think is fantastic. 

It was definitely worthwhile going out to Poland at the start of March. We delivered some much-needed aid, and we learned lots of detail that we could pass on to other companies wanting to do the same thing. 

It also galvanised us as a business. We pulled together as a team, we drew on our relationships across several communities, and we did what was right. Sometimes, being a strong business isn’t just about making more and selling more.

We will continue to support the aid agencies on the ground in Poland, but now that they are more co-ordinated on the ground, we will support what they are doing.

For more information, call 01782 391900, or email [email protected]

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