With the Government rumoured to be on the verge of announcing a second month-long lockdown, we speak to Guildford business owner, Paul Bridgland about how the last lockdown affected his business, and what he thinks about the prospect of going into another lockdown.
Paul runs Connect Surrey, a business networking organisation, as well as the annual Surrey Business Expo, both of which rely solely on face to face business meetings to exist:
Ed: How did the last lockdown affect your business?
Paul: It devastated my business … we cancelled both our Expos and wiped out 85% of our annual turnover overnight – luckily we were able to cancel most of the commitments we had made in terms of venues and equipment/services hire however certain costs such as marketing collateral and online services were unrecoverable, so we incurred approximately £12,000 in losses in addition to a total loss of revenue – we did refund everyone in full, instantly and this has had a positive effect on bookings for next year’s Surrey Business Expo which is scheduled for Sept 28/29 2021.
Ed: What support was made available, and did it help?
Paul: None! Like many in my position I wasn’t eligible for any grants as I operate from home so I’m not a business rate payer. I wasn’t eligible for Furlough because I chose to continue to operate with virtual networking and to pay my single part-time employee in full. There were some discretionary Council grants provided in addition but once again I and many others like me weren’t eligible because they were only for business rate payers (the same people who were eligible for the normal grants). Thankfully I had a couple of ISA’s for my retirement so these have now been completely depleted.
Ed: How is your business going to have to adapt, and is adaption even possible?
Paul: It is what it is – clearly adapting an Expo to a virtual situation is pointless and I did wonder why some other Expo’s chose to do this – an Expo is all about meeting people face to face and touching, handling and seeing products and people ‘in the flesh’. It is by definition impossible to replicate this experience on a virtual platform. Better in my opinion to ‘bite the bullet ‘and plan on a bigger and better show at a sensible point in the future. Mindful that COVID-19 will still be lurking a year from now but also mindful that life has to carry on, businesses have to keep working and that we simply have to learn to live with the virus rather than try to avoid it, we have adapted in a number of ways.
Our walkways are wider allowing better distancing – 3 meters wide everywhere. We have spread the Expo over 2 days so we can have less crowding over a longer duration hopefully achieving the same exposure for our exhibitors. We have banished the printed show guide (now an App on people’s phones). We have also banished business cards and are looking at QRL codes for sharing contact information without touching anything. We’re offering each exhibitor’s stand 2 re-usable, recyclable cups (more for larger stands) which they can keep forever and also get free refills at the show – this ensures they’re not sharing or touching unnecessarily and only drinking from their own cup – these are just a few of our initiatives. I think the concept that COVID-19 will be gone in a year is a far-flung fantasy but I do feel that people will want to visit events like Expos by then, providing they are managed safely and responsibly.
Ed: What effect on Guildford businesses will another month long lockdown have?
Paul: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t subscribe to the denial or conspiracy brigade! The virus is a serious threat to most people and will kill many, it must be taken very seriously however we can’t hide from it we have to learn to live with it and operate despite its presence. Ultimately it’s an infectious illness, sensible precautions practised to the point of sub-conscious habit has to be the way forward.
The economy has already haemorrhaged a staggering amount of money and given that this is happening all over the world there is a real threat of a Global meltdown, and a real disaster scenario looming if we continue to stifle business in the way that a lock-down does. I don’t subscribe to the Lockdown approach – yes in an ideal world where we are all retired and don’t need to learn a living and in a country where money and subsistence comes for a magic tree, Lockdown has to be the most effective approach, but we’ve done it once and I just don’t think we can afford to keep doing it. It’s a bit like driving a car … there’s a possibility that you’ll have an accident or commit a traffic offence so the fail-safe way to avoid any of that is not to drive at all but the fact is we need to drive to get from A to B so….we minimize the risk by driving carefully, in safe car and wear seatbelts – this is the approach we have to take toward COVID-19. In my view the potential cost in terms of misery and death from millions of people losing their jobs, businesses and livelihoods is far more of a threat than the problems caused by COVID-19 – there has to be a balance.
Ed: What would your message be to Boris Johnson re. going into another month long national lockdown from next week?
Paul: Don’t do it Boris!… Don’t blindly follow the Science – it doesn’t take into account other major factor such as the economy as stated above. I’m not sure the TIER system works either to be frank in fact it may even be counterproductive since apart from creating animosity, resentment and division in society, there is evidence to suggest that some people in High Infection areas leave that area shortly before imposition of the curfew creating a ridiculous scenario where the virus is actually spread even more than it would be normally. Either way, since you’ve asked me, in my opinion tighter restrictions are the key not complete Lockdown. We are a democracy and everyone will always have a different approach and opinion which is why there is no right or wrong way to deal with this and also in the case of COVID-19 despite our best efforts there will always be people who behave selfishly and irresponsibly we cannot control or stop that and Lock Down is not the best way to deal with it.
I do subscribe to the idea that if you go through your day assuming that both you and the person you are interacting with are carrying the virus, there’s a good chance that you’ll take
the right precautions to ensure it doesn’t get spread – distancing, hand sanitizing and ‘non-hugging’ have to become a way of life for it to start having a meaningful effect.
- Paul Bridgland: Paul Bridgland
- Expo Ad: Surrey Business Expo Ltd
- Red COVID: Pixabay