Hundreds of small firms falling through funding net

Captain Tom Moore – in inspiration to all

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 39 (Saturday, April 25 2020)

 LIKE many others who run a business in this town, I’m spending an increasing amount of time wondering how we can recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Whilst the government is sticking to its guns over not going public on their plans to release us from lockdown until there is a decline in the number of cases and deaths, a strategy which, we are told, is starting to work, it is inevitable that we will soon know how this may play out.

Scotland and Wales have already dipped their toe in the water with so-called “grown up” discussions over how they intend to go about the march towards normal life. A better description would be “a stroll”, because nothing very inspirational has come to light yet.

I can’t help thinking there’s been a bit of political one-upmanship here in going public with their intentions. Although they won’t admit it, I bet the government is seething that Scotland’s First Minster Nicola Surgeon has stolen the march on them.

We can only hope that the people of Scotland and Wales don’t interpret this as a good excuse to relax their lockdown discipline and make use of this weekend’s fine weather forecast, ignoring the social distancing instructions and exposing more people to the deadly virus.

Glorious weather is the biggest threat

The glorious weather is no doubt the biggest threat to the great British public’s continuing adherence to social distancing. There’s certainly been more traffic passing through Lyme these last few days and greater numbers are enjoying the delights of our seafront. This weekend will be a big test if the sun keeps shining.

Dorset Police announced today that they have issued 118 fines in the last month to those ignoring the rules. There is no breakdown so we don’t now whether any of these were dished out in Lyme.

What I do know, however, is that Dorset’s parking wardens are handing out fines in Lyme Regis, despite having closed all their car parks. I spoke to a local restaurateur who parked her car outside her closed premises, causing no obstruction, but was issued with a ticket.

I cannot see that parking wardens can be considered key workers. Recently, we received a statement from Dorset Council saying the wardens were helping the police with traffic control. Really? In Lyme Regis? What traffic and what police?

Traders in Lyme are under enough pressure and I think it’s a disgrace to be fining people when there is obvious abuse of the parking restrictions in the town. Take a stroll around the back streets or onto the estate where there is wholesale abuse of residents’ parking.

In my diary entry yesterday, I mentioned that it was likely that the pubs, restaurants and cafés would be the last to come out from lockdown. Speaking  to one publican this week, he didn’t think they would be opening their doors again until late summer at the earliest.

That’s definitely not good news for LymeOnline as 75 per cent of our advertising revenue comes from the hospitality industry. We were expecting to be able to reintroduce our print version in June, but it seems that is a forlorn hope.

I am pleased to hear that a number of small businesses in Lyme have been able to secure funding from the £10million already allocated by Dorset Council on the government’s behalf, but unfortunately we are not one of them. To qualify for such funding, you have to pay business rates but because we are in shared office accommodation we pay a set fee for rent, rates and facilities and have been told we are not eligible.

Ironically, the office complex is owned by Dorset Council and therefore they are the recipients of our rent. It seems grossly unfair to me that as one of their tenants we don’t qualify, especially as we are doing our best, through our website and digital edition, to keep Lyme informed of all matters relating to coronavirus – including Dorset Council’s many press releases on the subject.

We believe that this is a crucial service for the people of Lyme, evidenced by the huge increase in the number of hits on our website, and we have received many emails thanking us for doing so. No other local paper has such comprehensive coronavirus coverage.

We have applied for funding through two industry related grant initiatives, one through Google for all newspapers, large and small, and another Europe-wide fund.  But being such a small company (there’s only three of us), we are not confident.

So we are looking at other ways of financing LymeOnlyme – a community non-for profit project – without relying so heavily on advertising revenue. But it’s not easy. We are not alone, however, as hundreds of small businesses are falling through the net and may be forced out of business.

You can make a secure online donation to LymeOnline via PayPal by clicking on the ‘Donate’ button on our homepage.

Will families soon be able to meet up?

This morning’s papers are full of how the releasing of lockdown measures might pan out. One that caught my eye was the suggestion that the government might allow small groups of households to get together so close family members can meet up for meals, etc.

I think this would do a great deal to ease the mental health issues resulting from families being split up. From a personal point of view, one of the biggest negatives for me is not being able to visit my grandchildren. Seeing them grow up on a tiny screen is no substitution. However, I agree that getting people back to work is the main priority.

All I can say is thank God for technology, the benefit of which has really come to the forefront during lockdown. Apart from groups being to able stay in touch with conference calling (which I try to avoid where possible), it’s a real bonus being able to keep in visual content with your loved ones.

Last night, for the first-time ever for the Evans clan, we had a three-way family get-together via FaceTime with our son Darren and partner Jen, who live in London, and daughter Zoe and son-in-law Barry, who live in Galway.

We speak to them individually on a regular basis but this was the first time we had done so with all our children taking part. We used the excuse to make cocktails as well and it turned out to be the most enjoyable hour or so of lockdown so far.

To finish, I must mention Captain Tom Moore who as well as raising in excess of £29million for the NHS by walking 100 lengths of his garden for his 100th birthday, he has also shot to number one in the UK Top 40 with Michael Ball singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

The interview with him and Michael Ball on Breakfast TV this morning was hugely emotional. And, somewhat surprisingly, showed presenters Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty to be human after all.

Captain Tom – what an inspiration!

Someone once told me: “Stop doing what is easy. Start doing what is right.”

Woodmead Halls

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