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Help. No help.

May 4th 2020
Jonathan Ward
#Business Interruption
#Business Support
#COVID
#Government
#The Arts Council

If you're a continued follower of the Jonathan Ward brand, you will have a sense that we strive for transparency. You have to share the ups and the downs, if you wish to remain rooted in truth.

Each day we continue to tackle the new reality for our business during the COVID catastrophe. I felt an itch to share a little insight into the actual support for niche businesses like mine.

As we continued to receive email after email stating that our retailers were cancelling future orders and closing their doors for the foreseeable future, we knew steps had to be taken. Firstly we reached out to our studio landlord to ask what help could be in place. No reply. Eight further emails over seven weeks and no reply.

The pandemic continued to encroach normality, wreaking havoc across the United Kingdom. Businesses similar to mine started to reach out for support and assistance. My second port of call was to start the attempt to access the government's generous business interruption fund. Millions upon millions of pounds had been allocated to offer relief for businesses facing interruption.

The fund that the government has created for business interruption is not actually a fund. The government listed multiple financial bodies that appear to be in retention of the funds. When you commence the application process, the reality starts to illuminate. You are actually applying for a loan, under the same financial stipulations that apply with or without COVID tragedies. The listed financial agent's will give their own funds to businesses in need. If the loan defaults, the government will pay back the lender 80% of their loan, leaving the lender with 20% of the default. The lenders that we reached out to, responded with some immediacy. Some replied stating that they were offering asset based finance loans for new equipment purchases. Hmm, why would a business asking for business interruption support, wish to purchase new equipment ? The next wave of replies stated that they were removing themselves from the government website. Other's replied stating that they were unable to reply because of high demand. Others didn't reply at all. The statistics for successful applicants at my time of application were 3 out of 300,000.

Despite the government perception of generosity delivered in an affable way, genuine need in times of adversity is governed by past financial models based on risk, not in synchronicity with current reality. Hence the difficulties in securing successful applications.

Our third reach out was to approach the lottery funded Arts Council funds. One of the criteria requirements asks that the applicants be recipients of prior public funding. Slight hitch in the attempts for support. Again, an image of genuine care is somewhat misaligned when embraced. The rejection letter stated that due to the high volume of requests, support was not available. I would be interested to see the statistics on the volume of businesses that were supported when we get to the other side. At the end of the rejection letters, there is often a disclaimer, stating that requests for details on the reasons for rejection or how the fund was allocated would not be available.

Our fourth reach out, was to a London business body called the London Growth Hub. Excellent one to one personal support from a seasoned business professional. This has been quite excellent in simply allowing a human approach to handling the stresses of the reality. Genuine kindness and ongoing communications allowing  small business owners guidance in this challenging time. However, no actual funds were available here either.

Our fifth reach out was to the COVID support fund offered by Facebook. Before I could even start the application, I received a message stating that our "region" (the United Kingdom), was not currently established as an area they were able to help.

I could continue, there are many more examples. The government and larger financial bodies have taken quick steps to offer caring images of benevolent hand holding to the smaller guys, but at the heart of the care packages are the rudimentary rules of business. Risk, gain, deflection. I'm guessing that 'heart' doesn't rate anywhere on the single digits scale.

Now. Don't worry. We will survive. We will make it to the other side. I am a survivor. We may retreat to making the products back in our kitchen at home, we may be doing our own public relations. New product launches will be suspended. But, we will survive. We didn't come this far to bow out because of a global pandemic. Things will look different for everybody, we simply wished to share our story.

 

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