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Tales from the Frontline: Esther Hyde

Local musician turned key worker Esther Hyde discusses adapting to the new normal and helping the Sheffield community in her role as a member of wholefood co-operative Beanies.

Esther hyde feature article inside shop

I met with Esther Hyde on an overcast August morning. It was the first time that the stifling heat had broken in days, giving Sheffield a much-needed break and providing a comfortable setting for us to sit, talk and begin to process the pandemic.

Esther is an active member of Sheffield’s music scene and pre-pandemic she could often be found performing in local venues, including a slot with Annie Vohra on the Speaker’s Corner stage at Tramlines last year. Esther is also one of the youngest co-op members of Beanies Wholefoods on Crookes Valley Road. Something of a Sheffield institution, Beanies has been supplying the people of Walkley and beyond with Fairtrade and organic produce since 1986.

In the midst of the global pandemic, both Beanies and Esther have had to adapt to better support their community during the crisis. Now, against a backdrop of social distancing and crucial deliveries, the idea of navigating crowds to perform in front of audiences feels bizarre for her.

Like many people who previously considered themselves to be ordinary workers, Esther found herself suddenly rebranded as a ‘key worker’ when lockdown hit. She recalls the initial weight of the responsibility setting in slowly and evolving to a heavy weight as she realised the task ahead. “Sometimes it was really stressful, but I think that it brought everyone together. Everyone was working 12-hour days because that was the only way things would get done.”

Many of Beanies’ customers are older and high risk which added to the pressure of making sure their customer-base was taken care of. “We are a co-op of people who genuinely have so much care for the community. We were trying to balance how much we could physically do to help people who couldn’t leave their houses or couldn’t get a delivery from anywhere else,” Esther recalls.

In today’s profit-driven market, the community support that small businesses can offer is often overlooked. In the case of Beanies, though, it did not go amiss. As Esther puts it, “I think that’s where being a local business, with such a long-standing reputation and relationship with people in the local area, is beneficial. You know that people are never going to let you go down.”

Last year, the community even supported the shop’s expansion by reaching into their pockets and funding Beanies’ development through loanstock investments. The pandemic has given Beanies a chance to return the favour. While Beanies’ ethos has always placed emphasis on the local community, their relationship with customers has changed, as the service provided by the shop has evolved. Much of the sociability that comes with seeing customers on a daily basis was initially lost, as the co-op focused on increasing their deliveries. But as the delivery concept has been extended and as everybody has settled into it, these relationships with customers have begun to thrive again.

While she’s been out delivering produce to their homes, Esther has got to know some of the co-op's customers well. “There’s this couple who I knew before the pandemic and they’d even come to a couple of my gigs. Turns out they have this amazing garden and they’ve shown me different types of bees. They’ve even given me loads of plants,” Esther remembers fondly. “It’s those relationships that have been the cornerstone of the pandemic.”

Lockdown has given many the chance to explore their creative passions, although this hasn’t been the case for Esther. Between her long shifts and delivery rounds at Beanies, she’s barely found time to pick up her guitar. “I’ve only written one song during lockdown. I wrote this song about just walking and wanting to walk for weeks, because I felt like I had that much to process.”

Despite the stress and exhaustion of keeping up with orders, Esther remains hopeful about her music and the state of Sheffield’s music scene. “I really hope that we’ll get back to that point where a local artist can run through a festival, holding hands with her best friend, and be able to go to a small stage that’s being supported financially by a local poet. I hope that funding for the arts is still there [once government restrictions are lifted], and the importance of it in society is recognised.”

Follow Esther on Instagram for updates on future performances.

Filed under: #Sheffielders

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