Opinion: Even In An Annus Horribilis There Are Lights Of Hope

Owner and managing director of greeting card and gift company, Blue Eyed Sun, Jeremy Corner looks back on the last year and highlights some of the good things that happened.

 Take it away Jeremy…

Annus Horribilis

“It’s often the case that many of us are glad to see the back of a year. Remember 2016 when we lost a host of talent from Bowie to Sinatra to Prince? The internet was filled with memes looking forward to telling 2016 to ‘do one’. Some may also recall the Queen summing up her ‘1992’ with the Latin phrase ‘annus horribilis’ meaning ‘horrible year’ after a bad run of fortune for the Royal family that year.

Above: The Queen hailed 1992 as her ‘annus horribulis’, while many would adopt the same descriptor for 2020.
Above: The Queen hailed 1992 as her ‘annus horribulis’, while many would adopt the same descriptor for 2020.

More recently, retailers were glad to leave 2019 which, according to the British Retail Consortium, had the worst retail sales in 25 years. A certain sense of cautious optimism was to be found at the start of 2020 and yet, 12 months later, here we are at the end what can only be described as an ‘annus horribilis’ for the global population after the coronavirus pandemic and the international shockwaves that have followed.

It’s been most tough for those who’ve lost loved ones to the coronavirus with an estimated 79,000 excess deaths in the UK with London being particularly badly hit. Those needing hospital treatments have seen increased delays and mental health issues, particularly in children, have significantly worsened.

Above: The Covid-19 may be invisible, but its impact is highly visible.
Above: The Covid-19 may be invisible, but its impact is highly visible.

Unemployment has increased substantially, with those in hospitality, retail, wholesale and manufacturing being hit particularly badly.

Yet, despite the difficulties it was an incredibly special year in which many of us got closer to one another, whether on the phone, by Zoom or by sending more cards. Some found time on their hands to contribute to their communities or pursue new pastimes. Many of us came together on WhatsApp groups to co-ordinate support for those most vulnerable. People across the UK stood on their doorsteps and applauded our NHS each for all of their hard work. Scientists worked tirelessly to formulate vaccines to counter the virus and it’s remarkable to see it being rolled out so quickly.

There’s been an unprecedented amount of support for campaigns like #ShopLocal, #SupportLocal and #YourLocal which has led to an increase in footfall for independents in certain parts of the country.

Above: The ‘shop local’ call has been heard and adopted up and down the UK.
Above: The ‘shop local’ call has been heard and adopted up and down the UK.

Although city centre stores suffered from the loss of commuters who are now working from home, but Cards Galore, the GCA and many of us in the industry rallied together to campaign for the government to do more to support and value them as essential and keep them trading. Although this may not have changed much at the time of the second Lockdown, I believe it was a clear signal to the politicians of the importance of card and gift shop retailers to us all.

The furlough scheme and bonus financing options have been essential to the survival of many of the businesses in our sector. It was also rolled out very quickly and effectively along with the accountancy software companies like Sage who adapted payroll solutions to make calculating and applying for the funds relatively painless.

Above: Like so many others, for Jeremy Corner it was ‘grist to the mill’, trying to adopt a ‘cup half full’ approach.
Above: Like so many others, for Jeremy Corner it was ‘grist to the mill’, trying to adopt a ‘cup half full’ approach.

Many of us had to adapt how we operated to cover those furloughed and a number of us have worked very long hours to keep things afloat. It’s been inspiring to hear the stories of families coming together to help their businesses survive. A number of our retailers adapted to ‘click and collect’ and ‘local delivery’ business models via social media to keep some cash going through the tills during Lockdowns. We all discovered what was important in our lives (and businesses) and what wasn’t.

Our greeting card community has always been amazing, but we really stepped it up during 2020 with some great creative projects, like the Send a Card, Deliver a Smile video by Lanther Black and the more recent cardies’ video collaboration produced by Gale Astley (former deputy editor of PG).

Above: Dean Morris of Dean Morris Cards was among the many card publishers who starred in the film (made by Gale Astley) to say thank you to greeting card retailers.
Above: Dean Morris of Dean Morris Cards was among the many card publishers who starred in the film (made by Gale Astley) to say thank you to greeting card retailers.

Raj Arora from Davora built a fantastic new website for the GCA, which couldn’t have come at a better time for publishers and retailers. The GCA Council have had some incredibly productive meetings this year to help support our industry. The Thinking of You Week and Festive Friday campaigns the GCA started back in 2013 has gone international with the American and Australian card industries now on board. Our ceo Amanda Fergusson, has been in the news on several occasions, sharing the power of greeting cards. Mark Callaby, md of Ohh Deer along with others have also helped show us ways to support more diversity within the industry.

Above: A screenshot from a GCA Council meeting. Jeremy Corner appears far right, second row from the bottom.
Above: A screenshot from a GCA Council meeting. Jeremy Corner appears far right, second row from the bottom.

It’s the way we come together and cope with the adversity that is the gift ‘bad years’ give us. It’s worth remembering that whatever happens in 2021 and no matter how horrible any day, month or year is, you can guarantee if you look closely enough you will find something amazing in it. And in our darkest hour, that small light can change anything.”

Jeremy can be contacted on jeremy@blueeyedsun.co.uk

Above: Let there be light, amid the darkness.
Above: Let there be light, amid the darkness.

Top: Jeremy Corner, managing director of Blue Eyed Sun.

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