'I'm hopeful but cautious': business owners on UK recovery

Britain’s economy fell into the deepest recession since records began when GDP shrank by 20.4% in the three months to June. It was the second successive quarter of contraction, following a decline of 2.2% in the first quarter of the year.

However, monthly figures from the Office for National Statistics on Friday gave further evidence of an upturn, with growth of 6.6% in July as lockdown restrictions were eased. Here we ask some business how they are finding the recovery.

Tima Rashad, west London, beauty salon owner

Tima Rashad at her salon on Portobello Road.

Tima Rashad at her salon on Portobello Road. Photograph: Guardian Community

“When we reopened back in July it was like Christmas come early for about two weeks,” said Rashad. “But then in August it was awful. The worst we’ve ever had. It seemed that people came and got their nails done then went to the countryside or abroad.”

Since her premises are on Portobello Road market, in west London, Rashad said a lot of her business usually comes from tourists but due to quarantine measures visitor numbers have fallen sharply.

A customer receives a Covid-secure pedicure at Coco.

A customer receives a Covid-secure pedicure at Coco. Photograph: Guardian Community

“Our trade has gone down drastically,” she added. “Locals are coming but the passing trade of tourists is completely down and lots of people are working via Zoom in a remote space or are still furloughed so are not in the vicinity of our salon.”

Rashad, 43, said trade has improved in September, after the reopening of schools, but uncertainty reigns after the introduction of local lockdowns elsewhere in the country, and she questioned why additional government assistance appears to have been focused on restaurants via the eat out to help out scheme.

“Our industry’s worth billions too, they could’ve passed on the favour and helped the rest of us in the beauty industry,” she said. “Treat out to help out or something. All I see is help towards the restaurants.”

Michael Parinchy, Birmingham, senior project manager at building firm

Michael Parinchy

Michael Parinchy Photograph: Guardian Community

“Honestly, we’ve onlygone from strength to strength over lockdown,” said Parinchy, 34, from Pro-Build 360, which constructs everything from conservatories to homes. “We’ve taken on three more office employees as well as another six site staff. We’re growing and that hasn’t been halted, though the work is harder to secure.”

He said Pro-Build 360 stopped working for about a month in April while his team put measures in place to both Covid-proof future sites and cope with the rising demand for his firm’s work amid high demand for homes.

“Our biggest strain has been on procurement,” he added. “Most of the materials have obviously been difficult to get and we expect to have some difficulty getting hold of glazing and glass.”

Diversifying your business is key in the current climate, Parinchy said: “We’ve designed a flat-packed, off-site, pre-fabricated system of structurally insulated panels and timber frame that we just bring to a site, such as a garden, and erect.”


GardenSpace360, one of Pro-Build 360’s constructions. Photograph: Guardian Community

The garden rooms, of which a small number have been sold, are marketed as possible music or yoga studios, but people have been using them as home offices, gyms and even tattoo studios. “People are leaving their properties on high streets and realising they can run their business at home,” Parinchy said.

Rebecca Webb, York, owner of bicycle wheel shop

Rebecca and Jon Webb inside the workshop at ‘Just Riding Along’.

Rebecca and Jon Webb inside the workshop at Just Riding Along. Photograph: Guardian Community

Webb, 44, along with others who sell equipment for outdoor activities, has enjoyed a better year so far than the last while doing mail orders for bicycle wheels through her website.

“The whole cycle trade has been really busy throughout lockdown,” she said. “We’ve been flat out. People have had more time on their hands to get on their bikes and were never stopped from being able to cycle, unlike in some European countries.

“Our customers are reasonably well off and I think a lot of them had holidays cancelled. The money has been burning a hole in their pockets and I think we benefited from that.”

It has been the supply chain that has posed the greatest problems, Webb added: “We had issues when China effectively went offline in January, but they came back reasonably quickly.”

Webb was anxious that her business, and the country at large, still had to get through Brexit. “I’m hopeful, yet still a bit cautious. Still, we’ve done better this year than we otherwise would have. However, we’re not confident enough about the future to start expanding; taking on staff and a bigger premises.”

Chris Verheyden, East Sussex, owner of Frontier Fireworks

Frontier Fireworks display at Eastbourne Airbourne in August 2016.

Frontier Fireworks display at Eastbourne Airbourne in August 2016. Photograph: Guardian Community

“We would normally be doing fireworks displays virtually every weekend throughout the summer but have not performed any displays since March,” said Verheyden, 46, who travels around Sussex and the neighbouring counties with his team staging fireworks displays.

“Most of our clients have cancelled their events due to the restrictions on outdoor events, and the new restrictions will spell disaster for our company and the wider events industry.”

Verheyden, whose business recently secured a government-supported £50,000 bounce-back loan, said his company had nonetheless not received any notable income since March and out of 46 contracted displays for November, the busiest month of the year, 30 have been cancelled already.

On Thursday, he lost a further two displays while another six clients were discussing whether their events could go ahead. “We’re devastated but there’s nothing we can do to change the situation,” he added, warning it was likely there could be no fireworks displays anywhere in November.

The Frontier Fireworks team pose for a photo in front of one of the Red Arrows planes, in 2014. Chris is back left.

The Frontier Fireworks team pose for a photo in front of one of the Red Arrows planes, in 2014. Chris is back left. Photograph: Guardian Community

“Outdoor events can be organised in a Covid-secure way, safely and professionally, but these new restrictions will prevent this happening.”

Verheyden criticised “sketchy and confusing” messaging by the UK government and varying subsequent interpretations by local government that have caused people to largely abandon attempts to run safe outdoor events.

“These new restrictions will in my opinion spell the end for events this year and cause mass redundancies and liquidations of companies,” he warned.


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