Coronavirus one year on: How Mansfield and Ashfield businesses have coped with the devastating pandemic
As we reach the anniversary of lockdown, Chad is looking back over the past year and how it has impacted businesses in our area.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a year like no other and led to firms and well-known high street names closing for good, while others have been forced to adapt to the ‘new normal’ – with some being more successful than ever.
Craig Benford is a director at Mansfield company, BFS Accountants, and admits he has been ‘busier than ever’ and has led to him opening a new Nottingham office last month as his business continued to grow.
“This past year has been difficult – we have been busier than ever - our clients have struggled with keeping informed and worrying about the future,” he said.
"The first few months were hectic as people desperately tried to make sense of the information and we worked all hours trying to keep on top of everything.”
His accountancy firm spent the first four months working for free, helping employers process furlough claims and providing Covid updates to explain the Government’s latest advice in layman’s terms.
Craig’s team of 13 then began the arduous task of processing council grants, bounce back loans and tax refunds for its client base, meaning they and some of his clients were busier than ever.
"Normally we are advising on ways to grow your business but, for some, this last year has been their busiest yet,” Craig said.
"We had to help some businesses adjust – advising them how to think outside the box to stay afloat but, out of almost 800 businesses, only one has had to close – but even they have already made plans to come back stronger.
"That, to us, is a huge success.”
Jono Edwards owns several bars and restaurants in the area and has had to come up with innovative ways to keep his businesses afloat.
Many of his venues became takeaways, with Jono himself often stepping in to help with deliveries.
He was also keen to help the entertainment industry get back on its feet, creating Canvas TV to provide online performances which have been viewed by thousands.
“It’s been a tough year, but we’re hopefully getting closer to normality,” he said.
"We have tried really hard to keep things going, but it hasn’t been easy – now we’re just hoping that this is the start of getting back to having venues full of happy customers and getting a buzz back into the town.”
Sarah Hill is the owner of Studio29 hair salon on Littleworth,.
She says the past year has been ‘crazy’, but has spent the time up-skilling her team to ensure they re-open bigger and better.
Since opening her salon 13 years ago, Sarah has admitted the past 12 months have been the hardest yet – with difficult business decisions being made and having to spend a huge amount of money on making the salon safe for her clients.
"There have been times where I started to wonder if it was time to pack it all in, but we’ve received so many supportive messages from our lovely clients,” she said.
"We have had to make some really tough decisions business-wise, but we have spent the last few months taking part in lots of training to make sure we come back bigger and better.”
Sarah has also completed her teacher’s qualification during lockdown – something she has always had a passion for.
She continued: "We have been training together over Zoom, learning new colouring techniques and ensuring we are all at the top of our game when we re-open, so I was excited to get qualified so I could teach others too.
"Lockdown has given people a lot of time to take stock and think about what they really want in life, so I’m so glad I’ve been able to use the time to achieve my teaching qualification.”
Carrie Austin is a photographer and owner of Henry & George which makes wax melts and soaps.
She says the past year has been tough, but is finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel for her main business which relies heavily on the wedding industry.
With her studio in Sutton remaining closed for most of the year and the majority of weddings and celebrations postponed throughout 2020 and 2021, Carrie has relied on Government’s support schemes to stay afloat – something which she is grateful for.
She explains: “When everything locked down, self employed businesses were in limbo – information was sparse and many didn’t know how they were going to keep a roof over their heads.
"Fortunately the information eventually became available and the grants started trickling through."
Carrie was in the fortunate position of being able to continue a small number of Henry & George sales online, despite normally relying on markets and fairs to make the majority of her sales, and has been focusing on research over the past year to continue her ethos of sustainable packaging and animal-friendly home products.
"Sustainability is important to me,” she said.
"I’ve researched to find sustainable packaging to make Henry & George as environmentally-friendly as possible, sourcing new compostable tubs and packing chips, which is great.”
Carrie plans to re-open her studio in May and begin stocking Henry and George in shops and markets once restrictions are lifted.
Tamer Abouelela owns Ciao Bella Italian restaurant on Nottingham Road in Mansfield.
Having spent the first lockdown completing a facelift for his restaurant and lounge bar, the popular venue has been closed since November – and Tamer says they are ‘thrilled’ the end is in sight.
He said: “We are are absolutely thrilled to see the light at the end of the tunnel get ever closer, and to have our restaurant filled with life, love and laughter again.
"We are hoping that, by May, we can welcome people indoors too. We have missed our customers!”