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How are businesses coping with COVID? A view from the ground

June 9th 2020

As part of our Three Towns project Lloyd Jones reflects on the experiences of business owners as they adjust to life trading during a pandemic.

Lloyd Jones is a project support officer at the Bevan Foundation working on our ‘Three Towns’ project  which is scoping the limits and potential of the everyday (foundational) economy in the three valleys communities of Treharris in Merthyr Tydfil, Treherbert in the Rhondda and Cwmafan in Neath Port Talbot

What becomes apparent when talking to businesses in the three communities, is how varied their situations are.  Unsurprisingly, many are fearful for the future and keen to return to some sort of normal. Some, such as hairdressers, restaurants and community organisations have been closed for ten weeks or more or have furloughed staff. Others are just about surviving; the shops operating one-in-one-out policies and gift services who switched to providing online orders. Some are thriving in the face of challenge – the pubs and cafés that have transitioned to deliveries and takeaways, nurseries caring for the children of key workers and cleaning companies providing deep clean and sanitation services.

Amongst all this is also the toll of the increased demand on businesses who are mainly small or sole traders; working longer hours to cover illness, carrying on despite uncertainly about their long term future and the worry of serving people in close proximity.

One area of concern is financial relief. While there are thankfully many schemes available such as the UK Government’s furlough scheme, or the Welsh Government’s business rates relief or the income support scheme available for the self-employed , incredibly, we spoke to businesses who were still unaware of some of the schemes available to them. One business told us that they were fully aware of support available but did not want to put any added burden on a stretched public purse. Others have dipped into their savings to purchase new equipment in the hope of a boom in trade after lockdown. Some self-employed people are not eligible for the income support scheme as they haven’t been trading long enough and told us they felt resentment at a system they see as confusing and unfair.

Again and again businesses are highlighting their fear of the future about when they will be able to re-open and what the landscape will be like once they do. Will people be willing to return to a hairdressing salon and be close to another person even if precautions are taken? How do you complete a beauty treatment if you are both in PPE?

One business has the downtime to complete a shop-fitting for a food outlet but are worried whether anyone will come to eat there and if social distancing means they will never make a profit. If money is increasingly tight, will socialising be seen as an essential? This is on the mind of some businesses that rely on social gatherings such as wedding planners, florists, caterers and photographers.

It is still too soon to say what the future might be, and seeing some businesses still thriving offers a glimmer of hope, but the future is uncertain and confidence remains low. What is clear is that many of these businesses and will need support and guidance of varying kinds for a long time to come.

 

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