My wife and I own a static caravan in Mid-Wales and for the three years during which we have had it, it has been our weekend bolt-hole and place for the occasional holiday for us and for the family. This year the gates to the small park on which it stands were slammed shut by the park owner in response to the Covid pandemic and the government’s instructions. Many thousands of owners across the UK were similarly affected and the inevitable debate grew (much of it online) about the issue of compensation for caravan owners who remain unable to go to their holiday homes (site fees are paid at the beginning of the season so money had gone to the site owners, including the owner of my site). The UK Competition and Markets Authority – a government-funded body whose task it is to monitor fair play in business – weighed in with their not legally binding recommendation that compensation for what they saw as contractual breach by park owners should be paid. Caravan parks are unregulated in the UK so there is no precedent and no guidelines for the situation. It emerged that some of the larger parks decided that they would compensate their on-site owners and this was greeted with approval from those who used their sites. Meanwhile, the park owners’ trade body denounced the CMA suggestion in forthright terms leaving no doubt as to whose side they were on. I communicated politely with my site owner who was unsympathetic and told me that his income would decline as he would not get cash from casual guests who bring tents and touring caravans to the site – a matter for which the government had amply compensated him by issuing a large, tax-free grant, a fact which he had failed to mention during our discussion. He went on in his letter to me to say that he wanted the caravan owners on the site to show him “goodwill” at a time he was finding difficult. I am still trying to get him to understand that the “goodwill” he craves is a two-way street.
Meanwhile, my wife, Jane, who is an accomplished baker, said that she would start to bake for local key workers during the lockdown. Every Sunday for weeks and weeks she has baked cakes, flapjacks and biscuits in large quantities and sent them to local hospitals with people we know who work there and to the local postal sorting office in our village. Also, when the domestic refuse disposal van comes on a Tuesday, the guys who work on it have enjoyed their share of this bounty, too. This week has been her last week of baking and, as I write this, she is having her first Sunday free of flour and sugar for some time. However, this is not the end of the story. During those weeks, Jane has received a large bouquet of flowers delivered with thanks from the radiographers at Bradford Hospital and our postman turned up one day with a bottle of gin from the grateful Post Office team. This week, the refuse collectors all thanked her and (despite the supervisor blaming her personally for his weight gain) said to her sincerely that if she ever needed help, just to let them know.
There is a lesson in all of this for my tin-eared caravan park owner, and it is a simple one. Goodwill, like trust, is not something you can demand be unilaterally handed over like some sort of commodity. Goodwill is earned and usually freely granted when it has been earned. It is not a metaphor for self-gain. Moreover, when earned and granted, goodwill is likely to last – it has a ‘halo effect’. Demanding “goodwill” as a one-way concession leads to resistance and gives the impression of greed. Just like people remember when you help them and they show gratitude, those same people remember greed and uncooperativeness and, as you all know, grudges can be borne for a very, very long time. As an American friend once taught me: ‘what goes around comes around’.
Can I just say that I have been very proud of Jane through all of this as she has contributed to the community response in our village and the photograph is of the work she did on one of the Sundays. But I do so miss my self-appointed role as quality control tester during the Sunday baking sessions!