Kent’s 150th anniversary season proving ‘toughest of all’

PUBLISHED: 16:14 22 April 2020

Kent chief executive Simon Storey at The Spitfire Ground in Canterbury

Kent chief executive Simon Storey at The Spitfire Ground in Canterbury

PA Archive/PA Images

On a bright Wednesday in early March more than 800 followers, players and officials of Kent County Cricket Club gathered inside Canterbury Cathedral to celebrate the start of the club’s 150th anniversary season.

The congregation remained blissfully ignorant to the impending march of COVID-19 and the hiatus we would all soon face as the country careered into lockdown leaving the nation’s summer game – as well as the vast majority of businesses – facing financial turmoil.

Within a month, more than 60 per cent of Kent’s staff (playing and administrative) had joined the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention ‘furlough’ Scheme, the county’s AGM had been postponed, while a legends’ dinner to kick-off the sesquicentennial season with a bang, was also deferred.

Working throughout the lockdown from his family’s Kentish home, club chief executive Simon Storey admitted that the pandemic had created unique problems.

“The financial implications of this virus are huge and it’s the major challenge facing us right now,” said Storey.

“Public health has to be at the top of everybody’s mind, but the inevitable consequences of the lockdown are both economic and social, in terms of loneliness, social isolation and all the challenges that may bring.

“This is when you really do see communities coming together to address such issues and we at Kent are doing all we can to help.”

In an effort to assist the NHS during the crisis, Kent have made both their first-class grounds in Canterbury and Beckenham available to local NHS partners and have been hosting COVID-19 operations meetings and blood-donation sessions in the midst of the crisis.

Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Kent County Council, Canterbury City Council and The London Borough of Bromley have also been invited to use the club’s facilities.

James Moss, Kent’s community cricket development officer, is engaging with over 300 cricket clubs and 200 schools across the county to maintain the cricketing dialogue with advice on funding and tips for ground maintenance.

Nigel Bell, head chef at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, helped distribute the club’s excess perishable food through a charity in Dover and, to keep fans fully informed, the club have started their Spitfire Sessions, weekly online forums involving the club’s non-furloughed players and support staff.

Now in his second season at Kent, Storey spent almost seven years as CEO of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Prior to that, he had been managing director of Johnson & Johnson Switzerland, the European consumer arm of the US healthcare conglomerate – a post that not only left Storey with a ‘healthcare bent’ but also took in the global economic crisis of 2008.

They are experiences that Storey has lent on heavily in recent weeks and he added: “I think every chief executive during this crisis has had to lean on pretty much every little piece of career experience that they’ve had.

“I’m fortunate to have had 25 years of broad commercial experience, including 15 years with J&J, which has proved really important, certainly in terms of healthcare awareness.

“The big difference is that Kent isn’t a global business, we’re effectively a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) facing the same challenges as any other business within the UK community.

“We have responsibility for the full remit of the business and at a time like this, after securing the health of our staff, members and guests, cashflow management then becomes the biggest priority.

“I’m at the sharp end managing a club like Kent, exposed to all sorts of pressures. Risk management is vital, with much more local responsibility than if I were still operating under the larger umbrella of a global corporation like J&J.

“Kent are having to draw on a broader set of resources and external partnerships to get us through this crisis.

“But that’s good and positive because at Kent Cricket we’re very fortunate to have good relationships with the media, our principal lender, Canterbury City Council, and we have amazing partnerships with our key sponsors, Shepherd Neame in particular.

“We are sharing the pain and the experience with them if you like. It’s at times like this that partnerships really come to the fore.”

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