Learnings from the Covid-19 lockdown

In late March, we launched a business we hadn’t planned, at a time not of our choosing, with no intention of generating a penny in revenue. One month on, the experience has been priceless.

First a little bit of background. Pre-lockdown, Car & Away was a peer-to-peer airport car sharing operator in the UK. We ran a good business out of UK airports, live in Bristol and Gatwick, and in conversations with another 21 airports in the UK and Europe to further roll out the model.

A holiday maker dropped their car with us on their way out the country. We cleaned it, insured it, tested it for roadworthiness and then rented it out to an inbound traveller who needed a car. When the owners returned from their holiday, they got their car back, cleaned and accompanied by their rental income already deposited into their bank account. Enough to pay for the wildest Duty-Free splurge you can imagine, in some cases.

Then the country went into lockdown, the airports closed, and business stopped almost overnight. Apart from the extraordinary key workers and NHS professionals who stepped forward and set about keeping essential services on track.

In late March we sat in a meeting and decided we had a choice. Send everyone home and mothball the business or see if we could do something to help.

The idea emerged of a community version of our business, but one that would face a series of challenges if it was ever to see the light of day.

Could we persuade people to lend their car into their community for a good cause? And if they did, could we clean, check and insure their cars, all while observing social distancing guidelines outlined by our government?

If we could achieve that, could we then find someone working for the NHS, a care home or a food bank who needed a car? And then finally, how could we get the car to that person easily, at a time when they were probably working round the clock, doing something so very important?

One month on, we know the answer to all those questions is yes. And we know the name we would choose to launch the community scheme: Karshare.

So, four weeks on we have more than 450 car donations – which translates to more than 10,000 car days to frontline workers (that’s 28 years’ worth). We have new cities rolling out every week as we follow critical demand. We’re even busy looking for refrigerated vans, all because a charity in Battersea contacted us and said that valuable food was going to waste before they could get it back to the food bank fridges. Could we help and find them a van?

Along the way we have learned more about the power of teamwork than we could ever have imagined. We now understand that people are capable of extraordinary things in a crisis, and that by unshackling them from a conventional structured way of working and trusting everyone to think for themselves, many can over-achieve beyond their years of experience.

We’ve been inspired not just inside our business, but outside. By the dedicated people at a Brighton-based food bank that overnight re-invented itself from a destination for the needy, into a charitable version of Deliveroo, taking 70 meals a day around their community in a Karshare car. When I say overnight, I mean overnight.

And finally, and of course, we have found inspiration in the health sector, where donated cars are being used by NHS and care workers to replace public transport, support community activity and distribute medical supplies (especially PPE) between sites. They are an inspiration to us all.

And as we in the – over-stretched, exhausted, but happy – Karshare team applaud how the local communities in Bristol, Brighton, London and Manchester have given so generously in a month, we’ve also started to reflect on the bigger issues we’re all facing as business owners in this crisis. I’ll write more about that next time.