By Mark Laurie
Independent hospitality has arguably been the hardest hit by the pandemic. With half of our members reliant on outdoor events such as festivals, everyone working to reduced capacities, and the certainty that there would be huge uncertainties, it has been the most challenging year in many of our lifetimes.
With every change in guidance, announcement, call for evidence, Government meeting, petition, campaign we have shouted about you; the community of resilient, creative independent businesses that we are extremely proud to represent and support day in day out.
The Minister for Small Business, Paul Scully MP, told me recently that he believed that mobile catering and nightclubs were two sectors that had been most heavily impacted by the pandemic but hadn’t received the support he’d hoped. Shortly afterwards the wedding industry was added to his remit, probably making up the third. This was cold comfort at the time, however, changes to the grants, the roadmap and the blessed vaccine offer a way out of the misery of covid, albeit with much uncertainty ahead.
12 months without any opportunity to work in the usual way for our sector, whether in a bricks & mortar business, events or functions, markets or weddings, three lockdowns later and a lost season in 2020, much has been lost. We know that the independent and mobile sector are resilient to say the least but around 20% of the sector didn’t make it through last summer. Hundreds of new startups collapsed immediately, those sat on savings mothballed and those with no choice – the rest, hustled….boy did they hustle and so did NCASS.
Across the country NCASS members began researching and implementing new ways of opening safely, of operating and earning. Many businesses signed up with the delivery apps, some took this in house and for some diversifying to delivery and takeaway is something that will stick. Members created cook at home menu boxes, ready meals, groceries.
No sooner had the first lockdown been declared and NCASS members were appearing outside hospitals across the UK offering free food to worn-out front-line staff. Several initiatives become permanent fixtures. Two teams of traders worked ten days on ten off in Derby to provide nourishment and a bit of happiness to exhausted NHS staff and when free school meals became an issue, NCASS members stepped up again, often working for free. At NCASS HQ we were firing off proposals to government, shouting about our industry and you, our members and over a year on, we’re still standing firm on the significance of our sector amongst the hospitality mix.
When the hard times came, we stood tall, we rolled up our sleeves and we cracked on. As an industry, we have weathered 12 of the hardest months imaginable and while there is some way to go. We have proven to ourselves and others how resilient and adaptable we are. Simply making it to this point is an achievement, but now we must look forwards.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put some outdoor events under threat and at best we will have half a season. But it has also had a drastic effect on the wider economy and hospitality sector. The economy has changed. Flexible working is likely to be normalized, video meetings will impact on whether commute, congregate in city centre offices for work. In short. Lots of hospitality venues that relied on location, now find themselves in the wrong location but as independents and mobile businesses, there is more scope to now start thriving. As devastating as this year has been for so many businesses and individuals, we have never been more confident in the ability of our members to adapt, survive and thrive as we move towards the new economy and so dedicate this issue of our magazine to you, the NCASS community.