Bugle Horn A-board in Charlton
The Bugle Horn pub in Charlton is among those that have had to close

Businesses in Greenwich borough have revealed the extent of the issues they face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 60 participants tuned into an online meeting of the South East London Chamber of Commerce yesterday, where members also heard Greenwich Council had received more than 16,000 calls for support since March 31.

Multiple small business owners spoke of the damaging impacts the lockdown has forced upon them, as well as their concerns on how they would recover when the rules are eventually rolled back.

Among them was Marco Ilmi, the managing director of Woolwich-based Drury Tea and Coffee. He revealed the company had lost “90 per cent of business overnight”.

The tea and coffee supplier said the lockdowns had seen demand grind to a halt as the hospitality market crashed overnight, while its sales to distributors had disappeared.

The impact of the Government-backed rules forced the business to furlough roughly 30 staff, with a “core” group of about 13 left.

“Most of our suppliers have been understanding – we’ll pay them, just later,” Olmi told the chamber, which works with businesses across Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley and Lewisham.

“We just don’t have the cash, the cash evaporated overnight.”

Echoing fears shared by other business owners in the meeting, Olmi said the eventual repeal of the lockdown measures might not be an instant fix for companies in the hospitality sector.

“What worries me the most is the exit. It’s going to be tricky – I worry hospitality may lag in the recovery because of the social distancing rules,” he said.

He added businesses would be faced with an issue if the Government-backed furlough scheme ends before turnover recovers.

Pelton Arms A-board advertising takeaway
Some businesses – such as Greenwich’s Pelton Arms pub – have had to completely change how they work

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe told the same meeting the authority had been able to deal out more than half of the £36m in small business relief grants given to it by the government.

He said the move would see £36m of support directed to 3,000 businesses in the borough so far. Thorpe acknowledged the current support packages presented “real issues” for the self-employed, who make up just under one in five workers in he borough.

Thorpe said the council was “in this for the long haul”. “Things are stable now – attention now has shifted to how we recover from this,” he said.

“As soon as we are able, we will give out the message that Greenwich is open for business again.”

The meeting also saw an update provided on Greenwich Council’s community hub, set up to help coordinate efforts to support residents during the pandemic.

Members heard that since March 31, the community hub has taken 16,000 calls from individuals seeking support.

The hub, which has been “fantastically supported by local businesses”, has seen between 250-300 boxes of food delivered to people’s doors this week alone. In addition, the hub has helped distribute 2,000 frozen ready meals a week to frontline organisations, and redistributed four tonnes of surplus food to groups.

Greenwich Council’s community hub is available if you are self-isolating and have not got a family member, friend or neighbour who can help. Volunteers can collect and deliver prescriptions, deliver essential food packages and connect you to local community services. Call 0800 470 4831 or email covid19support[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk.


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Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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