'We need more help': three firms on surviving the UK's Covid-19 economy

Figcaption We Need More Help Three Firms On Surviving The UKs Covid Economy
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

The UK economy recorded the deepest economic contraction for 300 years in 2020 but it has avoided a double-dip recession during the second wave of Covid-19.

The Guardian spoke to three company bosses about how they have adapted during lockdown and the pressures they face amid tougher restrictions at the start of this year.

William & Victoria, Harrogate, Yorkshire

Jo and David Straker, the owners of the William & Victoria bistro in Harrogate, Yorkshire Photograph: Jo and David Straker

Jo and David Straker started operating takeaways from their Harrogate bistro William & Victoria during the first lockdown. “It’s like starting a new business each time,” Jo says, referring to having to adapt each time the rules changed.

The November lockdown in England was tough as competition from other restaurants that didn’t offer takeaways in the first wave intensified, while the loss of Christmas bookings was a further setback. January is usually busy, but Straker says the latest lockdown and loss of visitors to Harrogate’s convention centre (converted into a Nightingale hospital) has renewed pressure.

“It’s all a bit rubbish, we’re probably doing about 50-60% of the takeaway business we were doing in the summer when people had a bit more appetite for it.”

Having secured a £50,000 bounce-back loan from Lloyds Banking Group, placed its staff on furlough and received a grant from the council, the business is just about managing to pull through. But given multiple lockdowns and changes to restrictions, and no details about when they will be relaxed, Straker fears for the future.

“It’s quite tough, we feel very deflated. It’s all that stop-start,” she says. “With three children at school, one doing their GCSEs, it’s just not knowing what the future is. I had felt like everyone was in this situation, but now it feels like there are winners and losers. And we feel in hospitality to be among the losers; we need more government help.”

McArthurGlen, Ashford , Kent

Peter Corr, centre manager at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Ashford, Kent. Photograph: McArthurGlen Designer Outlet

Far from the usual 10,000 customers each day, the busiest the McArthurGlen designer outlet in Ashford tends to get during lockdown is when joggers circle the retail park to notch up new records on the running app Strava.

Lockdown might have triggered a collapse in visitors, but the Kent shopping destination had a strong December as consumers rushed to buy presents while restrictions were relaxed before Christmas.

“People were predicting another lockdown was coming, so we saw a lot of people out buying Christmas presents. That spend was really strong in December, pre-empting that we would close again,” says Peter Corr, centre manager of the outlet.

Footfall dropped in the summer, but average spend per customer rose 10% as fewer people came just to browse. During the latest lockdown, business is ticking over with help from a new virtual shopping service, and as some brands open for click and collect, and restaurants such as Five Guys and Pizza Express operate takeaways.

Despite major challenges for the high street from the rise of online shopping, Corr expects that physical stores will bounce back. “Though it’s been an absolutely devastating blow to retail in general over the last 12 months, I do believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Goodwood Estate, West Sussex

Andrew Coggings of Goodwood Estate. Photograph: Nicole Hains/Goodwood Estate

Cancellation of its motoring festival and horse-racing last year might have hit the Goodwood Estate hard, but a boom in summer tourism from domestic holidaymakers helped it to stay afloat.

“All of that was obviously a tremendous hit; like everyone else we battened down the hatches and survived,” says Andrew Coggings, managing director of the 12,000-acre estate in rural West Sussex.

The business – which employs 600 people at the house, hotel, private members’ club, organic farm, golf course and its event catering – had an excellent October despite the tiering system, as holidaymakers kept coming late into the year. But renewed closure in November and a bad December kept up the pressure.

“When we reopen we have to take people off furlough to get to our minimum staffing level, but we discovered in December the demand really wasn’t there. We tried to operate but the tiers system just didn’t work.”

With three wedding venues that would normally cater for 50 couples a year, Coggings says Goodwood, a member of the Sussex chamber of commerce, needed clarity from the government about the relaxation of Covid rules this spring to help the company and its guest plan for the future.

“We are seeing a few cancel at the moment, they’re just giving up. We need a strategy first of all from the government to give us clarity, and then we need to understand the longer term. We’re raring to go.”

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