How small businesses run by Chinese communities in the UK are coping as the country comes out of Covid-19 lockdown?
Feature photo: Business owners are taking measures to keep customers and staff safe, as restaurants, pubs, hairdressers, outdoor gyms and other venues in the UK start reopening from 4 July. (Source: Getty)
The UK government has agreed to downgrade the nation’s Covid-19 alert level from four to three, following recommendation from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which as the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock described as a “big moment” for the country.
According to the government’s roadmap, all non-essential shops in England have been allowed to reopen from 15 June, and more businesses, including restaurants, pubs, hairdressers, outdoor gyms and other venues were able to welcome their customers from 4 July, with a reduced social distancing rule at “one metre plus” where it would be impossible to keep two metres apart.
This change came after growing concerns expressed by MPs and the business community who argue pubs, cafes and restaurants would be unable to stage a proper recovery or even reopen with a two-metre rule.
As the country is coming out of lockdown, how small businesses, especially, those run by people who have a Chinese origin, are coping since the Coronavirus reached the shore?
Helen Kong, 35, founder of Freder, a real estate service provider based in London. She entered the real estate industry many years ago and has been working for major developers in the UK.
She started her own business last April, to help Chinese in the UK find freehold houses and shared freehold apartments. Her business also involves interior design and home renovations based on clients’ preferences.
Helen said this pandemic has placed everything of her business on hold, “Because of the uncertainty in employment…construction is on hold. No flights are operating and clients looking to relocate to the UK have been unable to come or view properties in the past few months. Everything stopped.” As a result of that, she had to work on listing properties for sale.
Helen Kong, founder of Freder, says it would be toward the end of this year before her business can go back to normalcy. (Source: Helen Kong)
As she is preparing her business to reopen, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, hand sanitisers, and gloves have become daily essentials, and construction teams are working on a reduced number of staff to adhere to social distance measures.
In-person house viewings are beginning to become available for clients and they are still mainly presented through video meetings. “The majority of our clients flying from overseas will be able to see their preferred locations in person (soon),” says Helen, “we will make sure we wear PPE as a basic requirement and have sanitisers to hand.
“I think it will be toward the end of this year before we can fully go back to normal,” she continues.
Amanda Yau, a 42-year-old British Born Chinese (BBC), who is a chef and a baker running a bakery in Readbrook, Shrewsbury. She has been running a takeaway for 18 years in Shrewsbury and started a baking business within the takeaway in 2011.
When the pandemic started in the UK, her baking business was hit hard as there was hardly any orders coming. “At one point, I was planning to stop baking,” she said.
It wasn’t until around mid-April when she reopened her takeaway and baking service after shutting for three weeks that she started receiving big orders as customers were thirsty for bakery products while other bakeries remained shut and did not offer a delivery service.
“It took us a while to reopen the business after the lockdown restrictions were eased,” she continues, “luckily we had no walk-in customers and only deliveries using online ordering and bank card transfer, and only one customer allowed in at one time (to pick up).”
Before the two-metre rule was cut, she said her business was impacted by the social distancing rules. “Some walk-in customers turned away when they saw queues and our revenue dropped by 50% over those few weeks.”
“The takeaway is not looking good for the coming months,” says Amanda, “…people aren’t spending the way they used to, it’s very worrying for us because it’ll just lead to us selling the shop in the end.”
Jonny Leung is managing director of Ken’s Beijing – a Chinese restaurant established in 1997 in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. The 28-year-old British Born Chinese took over this restaurant from his dad with his brothers last year.
The restaurant was forced to close in the middle of March just before the government’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown.
“The initial few weeks were met with great uncertainty as to whether we’d be able to afford to stay closed and pay staff, suppliers and rent,” says Jonny.
He continues, “Upon announcement of the business grant, guaranteed loans and Job Retention Scheme, there was a massive sigh of relief as it meant we did not have to let go of long-time staff members.
“Ken’s Beijing has been around for 23 years, and has been through recessions and times of hardship, it would be an absolute loss to permanently close due to the pandemic.”
The restaurant reopened in early June for deliveries only. The business opened for collections soon after that because of a high demand.
Jonny Leung picks up food that is ready for delivery at Ken's Beijing. (Source: Jonny Leung)
Staff are asked to wear face masks and keep two metres apart where they can.
“We’ve limited the number of staff members in the kitchen and have relocated some staff members to inside the sit-in area for food preparation roles…drivers have been trained for non-contact delivery and also wear masks and gloves. Hand sanitiser stations have been placed all around for staff customers.”
They are also considering screening off the takeaway area to allow one customer to enter the shop at a time. “It’s difficult to say when the sit-in service will be back,” says Jonny.
“The restaurant floor space isn’t big, we have around ten tables. If we open up the sit-in area for dine-ins, we’d have to cut our tables by a half. This may not be financially viable for us whilst restrictions are still in place.”
Jonny added that there was a large influx of customers from the beginning, which has been steadily increasing week by week. “Customers have been very sympathetic and understanding of our situation. I cannot thank them enough for their continued support and also their patience during this time.”
“Right now things are looking promising,” says Jonny, “The support offered by the UK government to small businesses has been unparalleled and has allowed us not only to stay open but also rethink the way we do business. We are hoping to get back to a ‘new normal’ sometime soon.”
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