The monumental challenges of the pandemic – from the various lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing to the furloughing of staff and the need to apply for emergency grants – have left many bosses and their staff with their heads spinning.
It has been an ever-changing landscape and businesses have had to react and adapt fast to new ways of working.
Many have also been reliant on that government funding for their very survival. At the start of this month, more than £29m in government grants had been paid out to more than 3,000 businesses via St Helens Borough Council.
And during the first lockdown figures suggested 19,5000 workers in St Helens had been placed on furlough at some point.
When they have been able to operate, many businesses have had to diversify, coming up with ways of offering their services amid a new reality.
Hospitality businesses have been among those to have been hit hard by the the changes and had to alter their offerings during lockdown.
The Sticky Wicket at Ruskin Sports Village, was among the venues to set up a new takeaway service.
Spanish venue La Casa Vieja, on Bickerstaffe Street in the town centre, was another, converting their licence so that they could offer takeaway and delivery services.
Many licensed shops also moved into the delivery market. including The WineStore, on Walmesley Road, Eccleston, and The Hop House, at Dane Court, Rainhill.
Businesses have also had to get creative in order to continue trading, including town centre bar and restaurant Vigour.
The Bridge Street venue initially announced in October it was closing for the foreseeable future due to restrictions making it “impossible to operate”.
However, after realising the limited funding options available, they ran an Eat Out to Drink Out initiative, aiming to get more people through the doors.
Speaking back in November, Scott Anderson, co-owner, said: “The idea is that people have bottomless drinks if they order five small plates at Vigour for £35 from 5pm-8pm or pay £16 for a roast and bottomless drinks on a Sunday all day.
“That includes alcoholic drinks and soft drinks. Places just have to get creative now to get through this really.”
Hairdressers and salons have also been affected, with long shutdowns during lockdown leaving plenty of us suffering from bad hair days.
When they have reopened traditional venues have had to modernise.
Among them is Desmond’s barbers on Greenfield Road, Dentons Green, which brought in an appointment system for customers to book a haircut, with slots each half hour so there is one in the shop at a time.
Dermot ripped out one of the chairs in the premises, to be left with two in place two metres apart and a cleaning process is undertaken between each appointment.
Another independent business which has been able to adapt to the new reality was tyre firm Stone Tyres.
When lockdown struck, owner John Stone increased its mobile services at no extra cost, operating under the name Gorilla Tyres. In 2018, John had already bought a fleet of mobile tyre fitting vans and branded it up as a mobile division but this was only used for emergencies and specific call-out work and not a core part of the business. While the garage had closed for three weeks, John and the team started offering mobile services fitting tyres for customers at home for no extra cost.
All service is contactless to suit the current need for social distancing and John says the business has been able to thrive due to its ability to adapt.
Some got involved in helping with community endeavours to help people during challenging times. The Eccleston Arms pub, on Prescot Road, helped deliver more than 4,000 meals to the elderly and vulnerable during the spring lockdown as owner Andy Mikhail used the venue as a base.
Johnny Vegas joined Andy and members of The Steve Prescott Foundation in delivering the food.
Meanwhile, later in the year in the second lockdown, inspired by the Marcus Rashford campaign to tackle hunger, volunteers delivered 2,511 meals from the Eccleston Arms in the ‘No One Goes Hungry’ campaign.
Elsewhere, The Victoria in Newton-le-Willows were winners at the Great British Pub Awards, for going the extra mile to support the community during the height of the pandemic.
When the pub had to close in March, licensee Kath O’Neill set up a food bank on-site and started making food hampers each morning to deliver to those who were vulnerable and shielding in the community.
Together with local volunteer group ‘Newton Helping Hands’, Kath and her team at the pub delivered to 150 houses per week throughout the lockdown period. The Newton Deli takeaway helped, as it ramped up its efforts to deliver food to those struggling in the community.
Manufacturing, meanwhile, had to alter its operations as the pandemic struck. Pilkington Glass set out how operated during the initial coronavirus lockdown in spring. Pilks, owned by the Japanese NSG group, kept skilled teams working at the Watson Street and Greengate sites due to the need to keep the glass making furnaces hot, with occasional despatches to customers for essential projects. But operations at Cowley Hill and Borough Road sites were suspended in this period.
The firm said that it had many employees working from home as possible, with some furloughed. And workers who attended the Watson Street and Greengate sites strictly followed guidance on social distancing and hygiene.
Indeed, working from home has become the “new normal” (a term that has become synonymous with 2020) for many. With government advice for people to work at home if possible, offices have been left empty for many, with video calls, conferences and app messaging now the order of the day, as kitchen tables and spare tables become workplaces and digital technology becomes increasingly important to how we do business.
As 2021 dawns, uncertainty remains, but the resilience shown by firms through the most trying of times will stand them in good stead.
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