After the lockdown, will we even have our high street to go back to?
Government offers of loans are not all as they seem, say pubs
09 April, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
Henry Conlon: Camden Town is getting scorched
HIGH street independent businesses are warning that the longer lockdown continues, the less likely it is that some of the borough’s best known family firms will ever re-open.
The stark warning comes as the effects of three weeks of closed doors and shuttered shop windows begins to show.
Kate Fuller, who owns landmark Camden Town gig venue the Electric Ballroom, told the New Journal: “We are just hanging in there. We cancelled everything to the end of June and it is very, very tough.” Spring was set to be one of the busiest periods of the year for the nightclub, which over the years has hosted Madness, Prince and Sir Paul McCartney. “It would be busy – we would have been open every night,” she said.
The venue had applied to help through the government’s job retention scheme – known as furloughing – but Ms Fuller said no help had arrived yet for staff.
Kate Fuller at the Electric Ballroom
She said: “We are not helped by a sense of uncertainty. It would be helpful if we had an idea of a date when we may be able to re-open – something we can plan towards. It is the not knowing that is damaging.”
Publican Henry Conlon, who owns the famous Dublin Castle based in Parkway, told the New Journal that Camden Town’s live music scene was under such threat it may never recover.
He said: “When Amy Winehouse collected her Grammy award, she announced to the world ‘Camden Town ain’t burning down’. Well, it may not have burnt down but its pubs and venues are being scorched financially. Camden’s live music heritage has never been under such threat.”
He said a support package put together by the Town Hall for venues and bars did not include those who paid more than £51,000 a year in business rates – meaning many will not benefit. He said: “Many of these are family owned single operations – and don’t qualify for furlough payments nor grants suggested by the council. Without these businesses, Camden will have nothing to celebrate. They need financial support.”
Nick Mavrides, who has run Ace Sports in Kentish Town for more than 30 years, said he had tried to keep trading remotely – but faced many obstacles.
He said: “I put a note on the door for people to email orders – but suppliers say their stocks have gone. How long can we survive? “We will keep going as far as we can – but it is going to have a major impact on the high street. I don’t think a lot of small businesses will come back from it.”
Only shops that sell “essential” items are allowed to stay open under the rules, with the lockdown due to be extended next week and no clear sign when restrictions will be lifted.”
Mr Mavrides said he had used business rate relief and a £25,000 grant to pay staff and cover rent, but six month interest-free loans were risky due to the uncertainty over the economy.
He said: “I know pretty much everyone in the high street, all the shop keepers. I miss the people and the camaraderie that goes with that. I just hope the small businesses survive as they are the heart of this community.”
One pub is asking regulars to chip in to make sure they can re-open – by buying food and drink via a voucher scheme.
The Dartmouth Arms, based in York Rise, Dartmouth Park, are selling food certificates and collecting donations, some of which will go towards an NHS workers fund.
The Dartmouth Arms
Owner Stuart Langley said: “Government support is appreciated, but it has its issues. We qualify for a local authority grant, but we are at the end our third week of closure and there is no sign of the money. We have furloughed our staff, but we may not receive the grants to pay them until June.”
He added: “The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is the biggest disappointment. “There’s a fundamental flaw in that the government is supporting the banks with the cash for the loans, but not supporting the borrower. I know of companies that have had offers withdrawn since the government forced lenders to drop the requirement of personal guarantees.”
“It’s understandable that neither banks nor government want to lend money to non-viable businesses, but if we are being forced to close our doors for what looks like three months or longer, none of us will be viable.”
The long wait for help for the self-employed
CAZ Churchill has sold vintage clothes for most of her adult life through her “Alleycat” market stall, writes Tom Foot.
Ms Churchill, who lives in Malden Road, has been forced to apply for the Universal Credit benefit after Brick Lane market shut down.
The 55-year-old said she had struggled with a misfiring application system that had left her waiting for weeks for confirmation.
She said: “I am concerned, yes, because I need to pay my rent. I need to pay my council tax. I might not be getting any money until June. I cannot avoid the bills. I just can’t see what I get from the dole is going to cover it. I have some savings but they are slowly dwindling, it’s scary.”
“I’ve done a lot of travelling alone in my life, and if you do that you have to be prepared. So I’ve always got a bit of food stored up. I’m all connected with lots of people on Whatsapp. But we don’t know how long this is going to go on for.”
Ms Churchill said she had applied for Universal Credit online but had been told that she could not be verified. She said: “I’m on all the Camden registers, the electoral roll. I did the application online. It sends you through to be verified and then it says you are unable to be verified. I’ve been paying tax for 30 years.”
“Then you have to call them, and you’re immediately in a queue. Then I get a call from them days later saying they will contact me on April 16. I’m going to be going mad for days.”
She added: “I sell vintage clothing, mainly to tourists. I was in Camden Market for 20 years, and now Brick Lane.”