‘Everyone should prepare’: Brits stock up for tough times | Contingency planning

EEven before the pandemic, some people were stocking up on essentials such as food and toilet paper, in anticipation of supply chain disruptions caused by Brexit or a fundamental collapse of civilisation.

Some stored candles, matches and logs, and bought a wind-up radio to stay in touch with the news. Others have installed freezers and shelves in outbuildings to store food and transferred some of their savings to overseas accounts.

So how did these ‘preparers’ fare once Covid-19 hit the UK, and are they still stockpiling items today? We asked some to offer a peek inside their pantry.

Angi Strafford, 41, nurse practitioner from Leeds

I started building a food store, after reading that there could be issues with fresh produce coming into the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Initially, I didn’t want to run out of things my little one likes: at the time, these were specifically olives, sun-dried tomatoes and canned tomatoes for making spaghetti bolognese – all considered things potentially affected by Brexit. But it has expanded to most of our common foods, as well as extra bottles of Calpol and household items.

Having a stock of ingredients in store cupboards came in handy when Covid hit. As a non-driver, single mom, and nurse, I didn’t have the time or the means to keep going to stores for sold out essentials.

When my son and I caught Covid last September I wasn’t feeling well enough to cook so I had to order cans of soup and other easy bits. I now keep a stock of these things in case of illness.

I think given the potential volatility of just-in-time delivery systems, the conflict in Ukraine, and the worsening climate emergency, it’s important to have a safety net for tough times. I have expanded my “storage” by growing my own fruits and vegetables with heirloom seeds, and hope to save some seed this year. The future could be difficult, and Covid has shown that the government will largely leave it to us in times of crisis.

Philippe Marti, 54, London

Philippe Marti: “About a year before the impending Brexit, we started to stock up little by little.” Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

I’ve always had a secondary interest in basic survival and preparedness. Nothing extreme, just a bug bag with everything I might need in case we have to leave the house in an emergency (lights, radio, hand crank phone chargers, cooking utensils), and some preparation for likely scenarios that could force us out of London in a jiffy, such as a ‘dirty bomb’ over the city, economic collapse, flash flood or pandemic.

About a year before Brexit was looming, we slowly started stocking food for the long term, especially when it was temporarily reduced, and rotated the stock to prevent it from disappearing. We had two large boxes: a long one in the garage and a shorter one under the stairs, plus meat in the freezer.

Then Covid arrived and our Brexit boxes became Covid boxes. We carefully avoided panic buying or reacting emotionally to any news. Any shortages were properly absorbed by the stock and we replenished it later.

I’ve added other things over time, but not directly because of the pandemic. For example, I replaced my disposable BBQs with a nice hob with gas cylinders when I realized that in the event of a power cut, hot water had to be made.

Storage, done in a rational and properly planned way, is a great way to save money – you buy food at last month’s or last year’s prices, or you buy in bulk on sales – and you feel incredibly smug.

Laura Aucuparia, 38, West Yorkshire

I’ve been hoarding food, water, essential medical supplies and general survival gear since watching the movie The Road about 15 years ago, in which a man struggles to survive in a post world. -apocalyptic with his son. It made my blood run cold, how awful a scenario like that would be.

I have enough water for a week, then water filters and cleaners. I have enough food for six months, and a few extras that would last longer: sugar, oil, salt. I have a wide variety of legally obtained drugs.

I have to rotate it and manage everything so that it doesn’t become useless. I had to move house three times with all that, which wasn’t fun, but when the pandemic hit, I was so happy about it.

I had been told not to leave the house because I was at high risk for Covid, but was unable to get food delivered. I couldn’t ask friends to risk the disease for me, so I survived on my stock, eating mostly peanut butter on oatmeal, canned fruit and soup until that I can get priority delivery. I lived without bread for six weeks.

The supermarkets were totally unprepared and useless. I am severely disabled and without my hoarding I would have been completely stuck. Everyone should prepare.

Nicki Tinkler, 52, Maidenhead

I’ve always read a lot of post-apocalyptic books and while I fully understand that they’re works of fiction, what I couldn’t get out of my head was what would happen on a societal level if there was a pandemic. I started “preparing” when the swine flu happened, I also tracked all outbreaks including Ebola, and rotated my 30 day food source, I brought a generator and I always kept gas in our garage. Most people thought I was crazy. I’m a middle-class woman in a senior role and I don’t fit the stereotype of a prep guy.

I got very worried about Covid reading the news of a new virus in China. Very early on, I wore a mask when I traveled and people made fun of me a lot. I also encouraged everyone to stock up. Most people ignored me. When Covid got serious I had enough food and water to last over 30 days. We were able to self-isolate completely and stay safe.

My best moment came when someone I worked with, who had a young child, called me to say thank you; he had accumulated extra supplies after talking to me, which made a huge difference when the stores ran out at first. I worry about Russia now and the threat of nuclear war. I think humanity acts and acts horribly when food or water runs out. I want to protect myself from it as much as possible.

Dean Axford, 49, Saltburn

Dean Axford
Dean Axford: “In December 2021, I decided the situation in Ukraine was heating up and, assuming the worst, I restocked depleted supplies.” Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

I found out about Covid at the end of 2019, while in Israel, and decided it sounded pretty new, so started preparing once I got back to England. I had already bought a caravan to be able to move around in September 2019 and bought a van in February 2020. I also bought a generator for electricity and around £700 of storable food and drink, which I keep in the house , and a freezer that got full. Also, several metal gasoline jerry cans for the generator.

In December 2021, I decided that the situation in Ukraine was heating up and, assuming the worst, I restocked the depleted supplies – mostly cans, packets of flour, etc., and filled the freezer. I also bought more jerrycans so I now have four x 20 liters of diesel and four x 20 liters of petrol.

I have a large first aid kit, self-heating meals, medicine, 500 liters of chlorinated water, a portable gas heater and a camping gas stove – both with full fuel bottles, bags survival gear and foil blankets, and various other survival items, including a Bear Grylls knife.

Everything that is bought or stored is moveable at short notice, using the truck and caravan, as well as my son’s car.

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