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Show caption Dean Axford, a ‘pandemic prepper’, has a pickup truck so he can move all his provisions to a caravan if he needs to. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

Emergency planning

Whether it be Covid, Brexit, the climate crisis or war in Ukraine, some are determined to be ready in case of the worst

Fri 22 Apr 2022 11.02 BST

Even before the pandemic, some people were stocking up on essential items such as food and toilet roll, in anticipation of supply chain disruptions wrought by Brexit or a fundamental civilisational collapse.

Some stockpiled candles, matches and logs, and bought a wind-up radio for keeping in touch with the news. Others installed freezers and shelving in outbuildings in which to store food, and shifted a proportion of their savings into overseas accounts.

So, how did these “preppers” fare once Covid-19 hit the UK, and are they still stockpiling items today? We asked some to offer a glimpse inside their larder.

Angi Strafford, 41, nurse practitioner from Leeds

I started building a store of food, after reading there may be problems with fresh goods coming into the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It started out as not wanting to run out of things that my little one likes: at the time it was specifically olives, sun-dried tomatoes and tinned tomatoes for making spaghetti bolognese – all thought to be things potentially affected by Brexit. But it expanded to most of our common foods, as well as extra bottles of Calpol and household items.

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

When my son and I caught Covid last September, I didn’t feel well enough to cook, so had to order in tins of soup and other easy bits and pieces. 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 is important to have a safety net for difficult times. I’ve expanded my “stockpiling” into growing my own fruit and veg with heirloom seeds, and hope to seed save this year. The future could be difficult, and Covid has shown that the government will largely leave us to it in times of crisis.

Philippe Marti, 54, London

Philippe Marti: ‘Roughly a year before Brexit was imminent, we started slowly stocking up.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

I’ve always had a secondary interest in basic survival and prepping. Nothing extreme, just a bug-out-bag containing anything that I might need in case we have to leave the house in an emergency (lights, radio, crank-up phone chargers, cooking utensils), and some preparedness for likely scenarios that could force us to leave London in a jiffy, like a “dirty bomb” on the city, economic meltdown, a flash-flood or a pandemic.

Roughly a year before Brexit was imminent, we started slowly stocking up long-term foods, especially when they were temporarily discounted, and rotated the stock to avoid it going off. We had two large boxes: one long-term in the garage and one shorter term under the staircase, plus some meat in the freezer.

Then Covid happened and our Brexit boxes became Covid boxes. We carefully avoided panic-buying or reacting emotionally to any news. Any shortage was properly shock-absorbed by the stockpile and we would replenish it later.

I’ve added some more things over time, but not directly because of the pandemic. For instance, I replaced my disposable BBQs with a nice camping-hob with gas canisters when I realised that, in case we get the electricity cut off, we need to make hot water.

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

Laura Aucuparia, 38, West Yorkshire

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

I have enough water for a week, and then water filters and cleansers. I have enough food for six months, and some extras that would last longer: sugar, oil, salt. I have a great array of legally obtained medicines.

I have to rotate it and manage it all so it doesn’t go out of usefulnesses. I’ve had to move house three times with it all, which was no fun, but when the pandemic hit I was so glad of it.

I had been told not to leave the house because I was high risk for Covid, but I couldn’t get any food delivered. I couldn’t ask friends to risk illness for me, so I survived on my stockpile, eating mostly peanut butter on oatcakes, tinned fruit and soup until I could get a priority delivery. I lived without bread for six weeks.

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

Nicki Tinkler, 52, Maidenhead

I have always read a lot of post-apocalyptic books and although I totally understand these are works of fiction, what I couldn’t get out of my head was what would happen at a society level if there was a pandemic. I started “prepping” when swine flu happened, I also kept track of any epidemics including Ebola, and rotating my 30-day food source, brought a generator and always kept petrol in our garage. Most people thought I was mad. I am a middle-class woman in a senior role and don’t fit the stereotype of a prepper.

I got very worried about Covid when reading news of a new virus in China. Very early on I was wearing a mask on my commute, and had people laughing at me a lot. I also encouraged everyone to make provisions. Most people ignored me. When Covid got serious I had enough food and water to last over 30 days. We were able to completely isolate ourselves and keep safe.

My best moment came when one person I worked with, who had a young child, rang me to say thanks; he had built up some extra supplies after speaking to me, which made a huge difference when the shops ran out in the early days. I worry about Russia now, and the threat of nuclear war. I think mankind would and does act in horrific ways when food or water runs out. I want to protect myself from that as much as possible.

Dean Axford, 49, Saltburn

Dean Axford: ‘In December 2021, I decided the Ukraine situation was hotting up and, assuming the worst, restocked depleted supplies.’ Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

I became aware of Covid in late 2019, while in Israel, and decided it looked quite novel, so began prepping once back in England. I had already purchased a caravan to be able to go mobile in September 2019, and purchased a pickup truck in February 2020. I also bought a generator for electricity, and approximately £700 worth of storable food and drink, which I keep in the house, and a deep freezer which was filled up. Also, several metal jerry cans of petrol for the generator.

In December 2021, I decided the Ukraine situation was hotting up and, assuming the worst, restocked the depleted supplies – mainly tins, packets of flour, etc, plus refilled the deep freezer. I also bought more jerry cans, so now have four x 20 litres of diesel and four x times 20 litres of petrol.

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

Everything purchased or stored is movable at short notice, using the truck and caravan, plus my son’s car.

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