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The COVID19 lockdown has presented a host of challenges and opportunities for us all. While tapping away on our home office keyboards during our now daily company video briefing, we thought it would be an ideal time to reach out to some of our valued field based teams, to see how they are coping through lockdown.

For the purposes of this article, we focused on one of our Explosives Detection Dog Handlers, Mark Starling – who prior to lock down was predominantly deployed for us on assignment in Central London. We caught up with Mark last week (virtually of course!):

So Mark, how are you doing?

It’s been a really uncertain time for everyone, my morale has been low at times because of the uncertainty in terms of when normality will return, both to life in general but also in terms of the regular work I do for GSS. I must add, that you guys have been fantastic in terms of both your communication and the level of support you have offered in trying to support with alternative work. That support and camaraderie is on show everywhere, which is really great to see. There are even understanding Landlords in the local area not putting pressure on their tenants to make rental payments at this time. 

So how are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?

I had to balance what is possible with the welfare needs of my three dogs but I wanted to support the local community – and so I responded to a request from my local Tesco Supermarket who were looking to employ additional staff to assist with shelf-stacking during the evenings. I have responsibility for the fresh produce section and this whole function has taken on added significance during lockdown. In fact the shelves usually need to be packed twice each evening, once after the stores close and again towards the end of the shift due to the amount of home delivery drivers coming in to store to load up their vans ready for the mornings deliveries – which during lockdown has grown hugely.

I did look into purchasing a protection dog to work with but the dog we looked at was not socialised enough to fit in at home around my three crazy dogs!

Are you enjoying the work at Tesco’s?

Yes, I am enjoying it but naturally, not as much as my regular assignments for GSS! The shifts are 22:00 to 06:00 Monday to Thursday, so fit in around my commitments at home and to our dogs  – but the shift to night work has taken some getting used to. Overall though, it’s keeping me busy and it’s good to know that in some small way, I am making a contribution to the community.

How are those crazy dogs you mentioned doing and how are you managing to their noses sharp?

The dogs have developed a newfound fondness for Netflix and Zoom calling! Their favourite show is naturally ‘Show Dogs’. Given the environment they are used to operating in when in London, this is no surprise.

In terms of their training, I have been given access to a local tennis club, which is owned by a good friend. I try and visit on weekends or when my current shift commitments at Tesco allow. This environment is perfect for training and has routes, buildings and vehicles for them to search. I put out some pseudo substances and away they go!

I intend to do some intensive continuation training and re-assessment prior to re-deployment so I can ensure they are in top condition and raring to go again. I think a bit like everyone right now, we’re keen to get going again…though only when it’s absolutely safe to do so. 

Thanks for your time this afternoon Mark, before you prepare for your shift this evening, is there anything you would like me to pass on to the team here?

Yes, please do pass on my sincere thanks for both the regular communication and the fantastic offers of support and alternative deployments from the team. Everyone has been brilliant. Please also pass on my best wishes to the whole client team at my regular assignment. Tell them the dogs and I miss them all and are looking forward to working with them all again, once better days return!