IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Small businesses ‘fall through cracks’ on government support

Traders are forced to adapt to survive coronavirus crisis, with many not eligible for help

01 May, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Customers have backed Lizzy Bassham after an online appeal

SMALL businesses and some employees say they are struggling to avoid slipping through cracks in the government’s coronavirus rescue packages and furlough scheme.

Some have found themselves not eligible for grants and have been forced to rely on the generosity of customers.

And several business owners told the Tribune they are wary of putting themselves in debt by signing up for government-backed loans while there was no certainty over the future.

Habib El Debs, who runs the Meat People restaurant and deli in Angel’s Essex Road, did secure a government grant and adapted his business into a butcher’s shop in a bid to survive.

“I have an empty space, a stock of meat and a supplier, and I had two or three people who could not take advantage of any government schemes like the furlough scheme,” said Mr El Debs.

“There’s a lot of things that you have to go through, and we had to do all the preparation in two weeks. But we have had a very good response from the locals.

“My goal is not to lose money and pay my staff so they can support their families, while helping the community in the only way we can.

“I’m not a doctor or a nurse. What I can do is use my premises and provide excellent quality meat at a very low price.”

Habib El Debs (right) with staff at the Meat People in Essex Road

He added: “Without the business grant I could never have done it, but I’m not interested in any government loans.

“I don’t want to be in debt next year. I don’t understand the logic of taking loans in this situation when everything is so unknown.”

Another business now adapting to survive the Covid-19 crisis is the Lizzy’s on the Green café in Newington Green.

Because it is based in a kiosk run through Islington Council, which has agreed to give café owner Lizzy Bassham a three-month rent holiday, it is not eligible for a government grant as she does not pay business rates.

“There will be so many businesses in the borough in this position,” said Ms Bassham. “There are so many cracks to fall through.”

Ms Bassham has had to furlough her staff, but still needs to raise funds to keep her business afloat as she struggles to pay her costs while being unable to open.

She managed to raise more than £10,000 in less than a month thanks to some famous customers and offering rewards and “pay it forward” prizes including coffee and cake donations to NHS workers in return for pledges.

“I wanted it to be something fun and some of our customers in the café happen to be famous, and said they would love to help,” said Ms Bassham.

“I was so anxious to ask for money, but I’m glad I did. The comments on the fundraising page mean more to me than the money. I feel so supported. I asked for £10,000 because without any cashflow I was facing closing by the end of the year.

“About 70 per cent of my earnings come in the summer months, which I’m facing losing because of the lockdown.”

Madness bassist Mark Bedford, comedian Jayde Adams and restaurateur Gizzi Erskine have so far all donated “pay it forward” prizes. Donors can choose an amount with prizes attached, from cups of tea to backstage passes and more.

• To donate, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/help-lizzys#start

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