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Local businesses: Getting through lockdown and beyond

October 29th 2020

Lloyd Jones reflects on how local businesses that provide essential goods and services might cope with more lockdowns and beyond.

View of a barbers chair

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pixabay

From last Friday “all non-food retail, hospitality (unless offering take-away or delivery services), close contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians and events and tourism businesses” closed.

Over summer, we had a series of conversations with numerous businesses in Treharris, Treherbert and Cwmafan to understand how they had been affected by the pandemic and first lock down. Reflecting on the insights they shared and on how they may cope over the next weeks and beyond, it is a reminder of just how varied the situations and experiences of different kinds of businesses were but that further restrictions will be a cause of concern for many.

Adjusting to the new restrictions

The pubs and eateries we spoke to that switched to take-away or delivery services will probably do so again, however not all hospitality businesses could adapt so easily. It is hard not to forget the story one publican shared of seeing their entire stock going waste while their doors stayed firmly shut and they awaited the verdict from their insurer.  ‘Close contact services’ also shared their concerns. These affected not just hairdressers and beauticians but event planners, photographers, holistic services, childminders, cleaners and many more. Some were afraid of the long-term damage the pandemic will have on people’s perceptions and concerns about close contact and how social distance will be the new normal for some time.

Adding to ongoing challenges

Should multiple restrictions recur this winter, on top of the difficulty of trading during the first pandemic and local lockdowns, pressures affecting the financial future of those businesses that have been hard hit will worsen. Many local businesses we spoke to had annual turnovers under £25,000 and couldn’t afford to miss out on trade. A firebreak and lockdown are undoubtedly serious disruptions for many small and independent businesses, but they are by far not the only challenges they have had to contend with. Some long-standing businesses have been witnesses for years to a changing local customer base with reduced levels of disposable incomes caused by leakage of jobs and employment to elsewhere. The rise of out of town shopping and growth in online spending over the past few years are all things that even before the pandemic affected small and independent businesses. These factors and others all have to be part of the conversation about how the long-term future of independent and small businesses in Wales can be guaranteed.

Local support

There is potential to capitalise on a renewed sense of localism. Preliminary findings of other work we are doing to understand local spending patterns shows that residents are using local businesses more than before the pandemic. Some told us they wanted to continue to spend more locally if other factors were in place – including more choice and different kinds of businesses – suggesting there is potential for growth and new opportunities.  For that to be in place requires good business support suited to needs that small businesses can easily navigate. We met some existing business who told us they found some support difficult to navigate, something reflected in the FSBs recent call for more consistency in support schemes available to small businesses currently struggling.

Many local businesses will no doubt be worried for their future this winter and beyond, only compounded by years of difficult trading conditions. It remains to be seen what the long-term implications of restrictions or a renewed sense of localism will be. Businesses in the valleys are certainly resilient but resilience can only go so far without tailored support during these unprecedented times.

Lloyd Jones is a Project Support Officer at the Bevan Foundation.

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