New Forest businesses warn their survival depends on reopening for Christmas rush

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lockdown forest businesses
Some firms reported busy trading throughout October before having to shut their doors again

BUSINESSES beginning a second month-long lockdown have warned their survival depends on restrictions drawing to a close before December when many gear up for the traditionally lucrative Christmas trading period.

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Tourism leader Anthony Climpson, CEO of Go New Forest, told the A&T this next round of tough new rules was a “major problem” for the local economy.

Many of the group’s 200-plus members stressed they would avert disaster this winter only if the clampdown ends as planned on 2nd December.

James Hiley-Jones, managing director of Greenclose Hotels which owns Careys Manor in Brockenhurst and The Montagu Arms in Beaulieu, said: “In areas such as weddings and business tourism, the impact will be significant, particularly if restrictions are not lifted quickly.

“Whilst the pandemic has created a deep and lasting impact on cash flows, if we can enjoy trading throughout December and beyond then the damage should not be permanent.”

Mr Hiley-Jones added that second wave restrictions were “frustrating” given the group was reaping the benefits of a “best ever October”.

Steve Lorton, commercial director at Paultons Park in Ower, said the new rules were “far from ideal”.

Anthony Climpson of Go New Forest

“We learned a tremendous amount during the first lockdown so the hope is we can minimise the impact this time round,” he said. “But it will be crucial we are able to reopen for Christmas.”

Michael Clitheroe, manager of Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst, said he was hopeful the next four weeks would be a “large bump in the road to recovery” rather than a total disaster.

“But this will only be the case if we can actually reopen in early December,” he warned. “The things we’re worrying about most are re-financing our debts and whether the buoyant consumer confidence of the early autumn will return for the following few critical months after reopening.”

However, Mr Climpson insisted the situation was not all doom and gloom, saying a post-lockdown surge in trade had helped provide a vital shot in the arm for businesses.

Companies have reported record trading levels during a very busy summer, Mr Climpson said, which could be the lifeline many of them so desperately need.

“Given the disastrous start for local tourism this year, a brilliant summer and early autumn have helped stabilise the local tourism industry,” he said.

“From a tourism perspective, if there was a ‘best’ time for a month-long closure it would be now; plus, in a normal year it’s also one of our quietest months.”

Mr Climpson continued: “Remaining open until now has given our member businesses a ‘nest egg’ to help spread the burden of cost over lockdown. Without it, many of them would be facing a very different next few months.”

Many Go New Forest members were “grateful” for financial support from central government via the extended furlough scheme.

“Whilst the size of support grants is negligible for our biggest businesses,” explained Mr Climpson. “They will be hugely valuable for the many small operators throughout the visitor economy.

“This support will also improve local job retention as well as ensure the immediate viability of our businesses.”

Matthew Lawson, chairman of New Forest Business Partnership, said traders would no doubt be “very concerned” about another government shutdown.

“It is absolutely essential that local residents support our local businesses over the next month, including deliveries, takeaways, online shopping and vouchers,” he told the A&T.

“This local support gives hope and encouragement to local business owners, which along with government support, means they can look ahead to reopening in December with confidence.”

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight branch of the Federation of Small Businesses is putting pressure on the government to provide further financial support to the business community.

“We want a second wave support package to offset the impact of a second wave of restrictions, including a new set of small business grants worth at least £10,000 each,” said development manager Nicola Bailey.

“There should also be an extension of emergency loans, and an increase to the self-employment support grant.”

She added: “The government’s announcement, however necessary, will inevitably leave many small firms facing the bleakest winter they have ever seen and the second deep recession in 12 months. Urgent clarity is needed on how small businesses and the self-employed will be supported through this.”

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