‘Coronavirus has hit us hard, so small business grants are a lifeline’

Published: Tuesday, 21st April 2020

Businesses across the city have hailed a grant scheme administered by the city council as a lifeline to get them through the coronavirus outbreak.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has given out around £30m in small business grants to support local traders and businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector. But there are still around 500 small businesses that might be eligible to receive funding that haven’t come forward. At the same time, the council has launched a business survey, with partners across Staffordshire, to understand the impact of the coronavirus on them.

Gaynor Lowndes, of Park Hall, runs The Fruit and Veg store in Bennett Precinct, Longton. She has run the store for 11 months, and does so with help from her husband who is a self-employed window cleaner, alongside part-time staff to meet demand.

Gaynor said: “I applied for the grant on a Friday and the money was in my account on the following Tuesday, and that was over the Easter weekend. It was exceptionally quick, which I didn’t expect at all, I thought it would take at least a week to process. I had an email to say the money had been paid by BACS. It is absolutely brilliant, I did not think that would happen in just three days. The funding is a lifeline. It will help me for the future to cover costs during the lockdown.

“Mine is a new business, and it has taken some time to build up my customer base, so the coronavirus has hit us hard. I sell perishable goods, and so when we had to close I had around £1,500 of stock in the store. We took the stock out to care homes around the area so that they could have them for free and the food didn’t go to waste.

“Knowing how easy it is to apply has been a great help, I did it on my phone and the details you have to give are straightforward.

“I’d absolutely encourage businesses that may be eligible and haven’t applied or haven’t completed the application form to get on the council’s website and fill it in.

“I have now started to contact my suppliers to start getting prepared for when we can eventually open again. For me, it will involve reordering all my stock anew. I want to be ready for when this will be. The money means that I can keep on going in the meantime.”

Dean Bradbury owns Bradbury’s Auto Bodyshop in Fenton. He has been in the trade for 42 years and runs the family business with his brother and son. He said: “I heard about the government funding and received a letter from the council about it but I was apprehensive at first. Eventually I realised that we needed the support to survive. My son filled the form in online, and we received a response within an hour. We will use the grant for bills and it will pay a small wage to help us through the lockdown.

“I’ve now told other garages in the area to apply and I really urge businesses to get on and do it. We really appreciate the support that has been provided. We’ve had a lot of cancellations in the last few weeks and so were struggling to keep going.”

Richard Amison runs BottleCraft, a craft beer bar and bottle shop in the Cultural Quarter in Hanley. He employs seven people and six are now furloughed while the bar is closed. He said: “We found out about the small business grants from the Chancellor's statement at the daily TV briefings, and then we followed up by reading information on the council website and government website.

“The funding is going to help us to keep paying our team while we wait for the furloughed worker scheme to start paying out. It's also helping to keep the bar ticking over – even in hibernation – by making sure all the ongoing bills, such as fuel, rent and finance carry on being paid so when we do eventually come out of this we're not in arrears to anyone and are ready to re-open and trade straight away.

We're doing OK now the funding has arrived. We were getting very worried a couple of weeks ago that we'd spend through our reserves before the end of April, so the arrival of the council grant support has really eased our minds. Other than that we're just trying to keep busy and keep the bar ready to go as soon as things change. Having weekends off is very strange when you work in our business, so that's taking some getting used to.

“We'd urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible to come forward, and even if you think you may not be it's worth checking out. This funding could be the difference between your business surviving or not – and it’s a grant, so there's no burden to repay going forward. The form was easy to fill in and payment was very straightforward, you've really got nothing to lose.”

Businesses can check their eligibility and fill in an application form via: www.stoke.gov.uk/businessratesgrants.

Council leader Abi Brown said: “It is wonderful to hear how this funding is helping our city’s hardworking businesses through this most challenging of times. We are doing all we can to ensure those businesses that are eligible for the funding can receive it. We urge any business that may be eligible to do as Gaynor, the Bradburys and Richard has done, and fill in the form on our website.”

A dedicated team is in place to support businesses of any size with business related queries, due to Covid-19. They can support with enquiries about property related matters, details about business loans or grants as well as information for the self-employed. They can be contacted on 01782 236878 or by e-mail at: business.growth@stoke.gov.uk.

The council, together with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, has launched an online survey for businesses, to better understand the impact the coronavirus is having on them.

Councillor Brown said: “We are encouraging businesses to complete this quick survey in order to obtain the best insight as to how they are being affected and to understand their needs and requirements. The data we collect through this survey will also be shared with the government in order to inform and support any further measures they may wish to take as we move forward to the economic recovery stage.”

The survey can be found here.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce chief executive Sara Williams said: “In these difficult times, it is really important that all parts of government and support bodies have the data that will help businesses now and as we recover. Companies and individuals will be asked increasingly for their time in filling in surveys – all are crucial to help us understand the impact and design help that will make a difference. I urge every business to help design the future by filling in this crucial survey.”

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Alun Rogers said: “We are very keen to hear from our business base. It is critical that we know the challenges our businesses face, the support that will be needed and the opportunities that may be presented as we deal with the economic crisis this situation has created for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. Our Growth Hub continues to provide support for the immediate needs of our businesses and the intelligence provided helps us to plan for economic recovery.”

For more information and advice on coronavirus (Covid-19) please visit Public Health England and the NHS

All residents are reminded about the critical importance of regular handwashing with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. The significance of this action cannot be underestimated.

For more information on digital services, visit www.stoke.gov.uk, download the MyStoke App, or follow the city council’s social media channels.