Editor’s update: How’s your second week in lock-down been?

Digging for Victory

Tales of innovation, entrepreneurialism and ingenuity have been pouring into our newsdesk this week, including a major and concerted effort by our incredible manufacturing community to answer the call from health secretary Matt Hancock to design and manufacture much-needed ventilators. Hat’s off to Penlon in Abingdon, Gtech in Worcester and Dyson in Malmesbury, and apologies if I’ve missed others.

Dyson has subsequently received an order for 10,000 ventilators. A spokesperson for the company said the ventilators would be ready by early April. Dyson also told staff that he would also donate 5,000 units to the international effort to tackle the pandemic.

Despite frustration that it will still take another month at least before the ventilators are ready, consider how long such a request would have taken a few weeks ago.

When faced with a crisis, humankind responds. I heard on the radio this week that our beloved NHS has achieved more in the last few weeks than, under normal circumstances, it would have achieved in a decade. Did you clap on Thursday night at 8pm? We felt a bit silly when we opened our front door. But the feeling lasted less than a nanosecond when we heard clapping rippling around the valley. I had tears in my eyes and a heart full to bursting.

Others are responding in different ways. Smart Survey in Tewkesbury says it’s seen a surge in demand for its online survey software. From businesses connecting with home-working employees, schools connecting with parents and pupils, and local authorities wanting to find out how they can help the most vulnerable members of communities.

Oxford University has launched the world’s first Covid-19 government response tracker. It’s free, available online and will continue to be updated throughout the crisis.

You might have read about Mike Ashley from Sports Direct. He attracted widespread criticism when he said that his stores were an “essential service” because they sold sports equipment which could be used to exercise at home. That’s taking the utter proverbial, Mr Millionaire. He’s backtracked now and has written a letter of apology.

But Halfords, the Redditch-based retailer is staying open where it can – with good reason. Many key workers rely on the company to keep their motor fleet running, including the Ministry of Defence, the British Transport Police and several large UK utility companies.

The company said that as things currently stand, its Autocentre garages and mobile vans are open and, within retail, it is providing partial store coverage where it can.

Gloucester-based Mears Group, which provides vital front-line services, in many cases to vulnerable people, is stepping up to meet the challenge. The Group says its primary focus at the current time is to ensure continuity of service as far as possible. Working practices are evolving so as to minimise the spread of the virus.  Where its workforce is not engaged in essential maintenance, they may be available to provide other services to local communities.

For other businesses, life continues to be difficult, if not nightmareish. All our pubs, restaurants and other leisure outlets are firmly closed. Who knows how long for. Many are offering takeaways to their local communities, but not all, and anyway, what they can sell will only contribute a tiny proportion to their previous monthly income. Hairdressers, barbers, gyms, beauticians – are all grounded. The Chancellor’s help, which now extends to the self-employed, is to be hugely welcomed, but it doesn’t cover everyone.

While Business & Innovation Magazine is continuing, it’s hard for us too as a small business. We’ve furloughed our staff (now there’s a word I had to look up in the dictionary), but my co-director, Kirsty, and I can’t furlough ourselves, because it means we couldn’t work – the definition of the word is “leave of absence.” We’ve reduced costs to the bone. On the upside, our petrol costs have dwindled to zero – but Starbucks in Gloucester must be suffering – Kirsty’s had to forego her daily large cappuccino, two sugars – chocolate on the top, as she drives to work.

So we’re up and on it each day – as will be hundreds of thousands of small businesses just like us. We’re here to support the region’s business continuity as much as we can. Despite the virus, most businesses are still operating, albeit from spare bedrooms across the country, or on a skeleton staff, and it’s up to us to continue sharing news and information because this lockdown situation won’t last forever and good communication will help us all get back on our feet faster.

Nicky main picWe’re all anxious, that’s not surprising. I deal with it by knocking off work around 3.30pm every day and digging a new vegetable garden. You could call it digging for victory.

Have a good weekend. Stay home, stay safe and keep on with the indiscriminate wielding of soap.