Police crack down on shoppers buying DIY equipment and garden furniture at The Range as 11,000 sign petition saying chain should not be classed as essential retailer
- Police issued 20 people with warnings for making non-essential trips in Stockton, County Durham on Sunday
- Workers say The Range shops and warehouses are ‘scary’ with ‘little social distancing’ and no PPE for staff
- CEO says Trading Standards has confirmed his shop is an essential service but petition launched to close it
Police have cracked down on shoppers making non-essential trips to buy DIY equipment and garden furniture, as pressure mounts on homewear store The Range to close its doors amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Police issued 20 shoppers with warnings after they were seen buying non-essential goods at The Range in Stockton, County Durham on Sunday.
The home and garden store has been allowed to stay open during the nationwide lockdown, but 11,000 people have signed a petition calling for it to be closed.
Although it sells some food, toilet rolls and pet food, customers have been flocking to the shops to buy house plants, soft furnishings and DIY goods.
Those caught making non-essential journeys by police can be fined £60 for a first offence at £120 for a second one.
Workers have claimed that both in-store and in the warehouses, aisles are too close together to maintain social distancing and there is not enough protective equipment to stop the virus from spreading.
Police issued 20 shoppers with warnings after they were seen buying non-essential goods at The Range in Stockton, County Durham on Sunday (officers pictured)
Those caught making non-essential journeys by police can be fined £60 for a first offence at £120 for a second one. Officers are pictured outside The Range in Stockton yesterday
A man is pictured today leaving The Range in Plymouth with a large barbecue in his trolley while staff are seen at the entrance
A couple are seen leaving The Range in Plymouth with a wooden garden trellis and some plants, which petitioners argue are not ‘essential goods’
Two shoppers are pictured loading homewear goods into their car at The Range in Plymouth on Monday
Two women are pictured beaming as they leave The Range in Plymouth with several garden plants, which a 11,000-signature strong petition claims are ‘not essential goods’
A male customer is pictured unloading a large bin and some soil into his car at The Range in Plymouth on Monday
One Range employee at a store in Berkshire said: ‘There was supposed to be a delay in bringing in new freezers, but they were rushed in after the COVID-19 outbreak.
‘We do sell a few essential items, but we haven’t closed off the rest of the store to focus on just the essentials.
‘A lot of nearby hardware stores have closed and B&Q have moved to click and collect, so it feels like they are trying to take advantage of that with current sales.
The member of staff said they were scared of contracting the virus through close contact with customers browsing for non essentials.
They added: ‘It is scary, I don’t feel like we need to be there and that is a feeling shared by my colleagues.
‘Customers have been coming in and buying non-essential items, like bedside tables and cushions, it feels as though they are not taking it seriously at all.
‘Some customers have been great with social distancing, making sure they stay two metres apart.
One woman is seen returning to her car outside The Range in Plymouth with a clothes airer on Monday
Two members of staff at The Range in Plymouth are seen less than 6ft away from a customer who has bought a children’s bike
Customers were seen leaving the Plymouth branch of The Range with a whole host of ‘non-essential’ items today, including this man who walked away with two plants
Pictured: Customers were queuing outside The Range in Plymouth today, desperate to get their hands on DIY goods and garden furniture
‘But it is difficult with the width of the aisles. ‘We have flatbeds that we use to stock shelves on after deliveries, and we have still been working two-to-three people per flatbed, the aisles are not even two metres wide, so there is no way we can observe social distancing.’
Last week The Range’s distribution centre in Avonmouth, Bristol, sparked concerns after an image emerged of a group of colleagues squeezed in a tight corridor there.
Workers say that when shifts change they often come into close contact with their co-workers, and are unable to keep the six-foot distance advised by Public Health England.
One worker told Bristol Live: ‘All they provide is hand sanitiser – no gloves, no masks, for hundreds of people.
‘All the responsibilities from The Range have been pushed down to our managers, who try to make the best out of the circumstances, but they are overwhelmed as well.
‘The company even forces us to get searched on our way out, leaving us with another few minutes of queuing.’
A woman is pictured leaving The Range in Bristol with bags of compost and a plant last week
Shoppers continue to visit The Range for goods, pictured, despite the government’s urge for people to stay at home
A spokesman for Cleveland Police, which issued the warnings in Stockton yesterday said: ‘We are seeing people out today who are making non-essential journeys to buy items such as log burners, paint and garden equipment.
‘Officers will engage, encourage and explain the reasons why people should be returning home before enforcement is used.
‘We would like to remind people to stay at home, not only to potentially save their own lives but also the lives of others and to protect the NHS.’
But The Range’s CEO Alex Simpkin said safety guidelines were being followed and managers have also brought in enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures to protect staff and the public.
He said in a statement: ‘Following on from the announcement that all non-essential stores are to close, we’ve had confirmation from Trading Standards that we should remain open during this period of uncertainty for the communities that we serve.
‘We are a value retailer and understand that a lot of our customers rely on us to provide essential items like food and groceries, pet food and veterinary items, non-prescription items, toilet rolls, cleaning products and all at the value prices that they need right now.
‘Stocking thousands of essential everyday products across 180 stores nationwide, we’ve been working hard to ensure we can continue to provide safe access to all of these necessities under one roof.’
Staff at The Range’s regional distribution centre at Avonmouth in Bristol have raised concerns after an image emerged of a number of employees congregated together in a narrow corridor