Coronavirus in Portsmouth: Businesses 'will never be the same' a year on from first lockdown but experts see signs of hope

BUSINESSES battered in the 12 months since lockdown was first announced ‘will never be quite the same’ – but there is reason for hope, experts have said.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 7:00 am

Speaking on the first anniversary of lockdown being announced, Ross McNally, Hampshire Chamber chief executive, said businesses have ‘transformed’ in the pandemic.

Mr McNally said the year has been ‘very difficult times’ but added: ‘The greatest thing perhaps in these terribly sad and extraordinarily challenging circumstances is to have seen just how much we have come together as businesses and as communities.

‘It is just a year since businesses faced the unprecedented challenge of lockdown but in that time we have seen them, to very great extent, first adjust, then adapt and finally transform their prospects, models and market opportunities.

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(left), Sheila Kellaway with Beau and Lara McNally at Cosham Pets before the pandemic begun. Picture Ian Hargreaves (050220-1)

‘Clearly not all sectors have been fortunate or well-placed enough to be able to do this and it has been the support from government which has helped us all.’

He added: ‘As we move ever closer towards post-lockdown it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that business will never be quite the same.’

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The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership’s chairman, Brian Johnson, said he is ‘hopeful’ unlocking will see more sectors move from survival, to stability and then growth.

‘Businesses and individuals have suffered and it’s been really difficult,’ he said.

While Mr Johnson said he did not want to create ‘false hope’, he sees promising signs now that half the adult population have been vaccinated and summer is approaching.

He said: ‘There’s a chance that we can be moving, in the next couple of months, from survival to stability and perhaps by the end of the year, we can be talking about growth.’

The Solent LEP has been supporting some of the region’s 50,000 companies with its growth hub, with 90,000 contacts clocked at the hub.

Mr Johnson said the LEP found many firms needed support – not just funding.

Some industries were already stabilising, while tourism has its eyes on the approaching summer for a boost, he said.

It comes as business owners have told The News they would have preferred a longer first lockdown if it had saved them from a year of uncertainty.

Bakers Bar & Kitchen in Royal Clarence Marina in Gosport launched almost a month before restrictions came into place last March.

Operations director Andy Burdon said a longer lockdown could have saved the business, formerly The Victualler, from a costly series of reopenings.

Mr Burdon said: ‘Opening and closing, opening and closing – that has been the problem.

‘The cost of restocking and writing off stock in our trade is really high.

‘A longer, harder first lockdown would have been preferable.’

Even new businesses that were able to remain trading as essential services have struggled to rebound from the first lockdown.

Lara McNally opened Cosham Pets just three months before the first lockdown.

She said she would not have opened the shop had she known what would happen.

The 46-year-old said: ‘It was a brand new shop – it had been Good Deal. But no one knew me, no one knew what we were about.

‘Even a year later, we still get people coming in thinking it’s Good Deal. They pick up a basket and then realise and walk out.’

The shop had little chance to build up a customer base and shopper recognition before lockdown emptied the high street, according to Ms McNally, who also owns Country Pets in Hayling Island.

She said: ‘The lowest point was in April and May – there have been a lot of tears.

‘It feels soul destroying sitting here for hours and not having any customers come in.’.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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