Small businesses care about us. Let us repay the favour

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We are living in a country that has mostly adjusted to our new limited freedoms, waiting for the lockdown to be eased and for the right, scientific path to be followed. One of the constructive discoveries is of our reinforced awareness that the high street is still the centre of modern life. The supermarkets are a necessity, but it is abundantly clear that they are no social substitute for a bustling marketplace or a vast, stylish store. Everyone needs some vapid entertainment, to hang out, whether it is a mall or a meal out. When the public inevitably is allowed out to socialise, dine and be at liberty to spend, there will be justified celebration. However, there should also be meaningful reflection.

The past few years have seen a steady trickle of news mourning the death of the high street. Huge brands collapse, institutions even, and the evidence is in broad daylight across from small towns to metropolitan districts. A financial crash and the rise of the internet, with fast fashion and the acceleration from closed shops, as we all know, has drained our communities’ lives. Arcadia’s announcement that over one hundred stores will be closed feels like a final kiss of death. Coronavirus has finally squeezed a consensus out from all politicians about the impact of an underfunded NHS. Where the government fails, the people step up, as has been seen in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Across the country, hospitals are lacking vital PPE equipment, hoovers and costly ventilators. Scarborough has, shockingly, witnessed 564 confirmed cases as of late and has a large, vulnerable old population. Three local florist shops, Flowers of Distinction, Forget Me Not Florist, and Rose Garden Florist, collaborated to produce hundreds of blue bows to be hung on front doors, circumventing around the lack of fresh flowers and raising a staggering amount for the Scarborough Hospital and Cross Lane Hospital. This raised over £3000 on their Go Fund Me page, and much more in person. This is a tremendous achievement that will practically help their local, strained NHS. Actions like these showcase the best of people, demonstrating how small businesses can efficiently mobilise financial aid in a crisis.

The government is vague but firm regarding its condition that for businesses to be compensated, they must be also economically viable. This may seem like common sense, but it will only be fair and effective if the vast differences between small and national corporations are taken into account.  Dire news circulates that over half a million UK businesses face going bust, the bulk of which have under two hundred and fifty employees. Banks have only issued £1.1 billion to small UK firms. This is a scandal. The Chancellor urgently needs to alleviate the pressure all firms face from landlords and exercise common sense by protecting smaller firms with slim profits.

It’s the independent bakeries, florists and tea rooms which local people consistently support. I don’t want to patronise anyone by telling them to choose local, but if we are to reverse our dying high streets then we need to spend wisely. Belts will be tightened with people out of work, but when possible, we should support the small businesses that have proven their community importance of being profitable, vibrant and caring places that we have cherished. Our beloved small shops have nobly volunteered themselves for the NHS. Let us remember this.

Seamus O’Hanlon

Image: Wikimedia Commons.