Business owners worry new restrictions on gatherings are 'unsurvivable'

9 September 2020, 13:09 | Updated: 9 September 2020, 13:27

New restrictions will come into effect on Monday and will ban gatherings of more than six people in England
New restrictions will come into effect on Monday and will ban gatherings of more than six people in England. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Business owners today told of their renewed fears of going bust during the coronavirus crisis after the government imposed a legal limit on the number of people allowed to gather indoors and outdoors.

Business owner Michael Fishpen was prepared to do anything to keep afloat when the first coronavirus lockdown came into effect - but with new restrictions to be announced today, he's not sure if his catering company will survive.

The 49-year-old runs his namesake Mike Fishpen Personal Chef Services, which sees him travel to homes across the country and cook for private dinner parties at an average of ten guests per booking.

He was forced to wipe his calendar almost clean when the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect in March, and told LBC things had just started moving again when news broke of the new rules.

READ MORE: The real Covid killer? A second crackdown that could blight business

Chloe Cotton (left) and Michael Fishpen (right) are both concerned for the future of their businesses
Chloe Cotton (left) and Michael Fishpen (right) are both concerned for the future of their businesses. Picture: LBC

"I don't think my business is going to survive," he said. "Especially if we go into another full lockdown. 

"I need to phone my clients and ask if they need a refund or to postpone. Already this morning, I've had three cancellations before 8am.

"They were all big dinner parties and are all asking for their deposits back. I've just, now, had another email asking to discuss another party - so that's four before 10am."

Michael Fishpen is worried his business won't survive amid ongoing restrictions
Michael Fishpen is worried his business won't survive amid ongoing restrictions. Picture: Michael Fishpen

The new restrictions, announced today, will come into effect in England from Monday and will make social gatherings of six or more people illegal.

Failure to comply with this will be subject to a fine.

There will also be a number of exemptions listed - including weddings, schools and workplaces - but Mr Fishpen is unsure whether his own business will count.

"The problem is that they're not specific. Can you have six people in total - or can have six people plus the chef and the waiter?

READ MORE: Hancock warns of surge in people with no symptoms seeking COVID-19 tests

"If that's the case, who is going to want a dinner party for four people?"

He added: "People were just getting confidence back and now this has happened.

"Am I going to have any income for the rest of this year? The government support I've had has gone now."

Mr Fishpen cooks for private dinner parties across the country
Mr Fishpen cooks for private dinner parties across the country. Picture: Michael Fishpen

For Chloe Cotton, who founded Trainmaster, a nationwide company organising rail-themed events and parties, the news of new restrictions left her thinking her business would need to close.

"It's going to be devastating," she told LBC on Wednesday. "I've spent nearly three years building a business that was very successful, and now it's in a position where I'm not sure if it's going to run. 

"We usually have party bookings months in advance, but now no one is booking anything. So, financially, it puts us in a dire position.

"The longer this goes on, the harder it gets to recover."

READ MORE: The party's over: Gatherings of more than six people to be banned

Chloe Cotton says the impact of further restrictions will be 'devastating'
Chloe Cotton says the impact of further restrictions will be 'devastating'. Picture: Chloe Cotton

And Ms Cotton and Mr Fishpen are not alone in their concerns.

A study earlier this week from Simply Business revealed almost one in five smaller firms believed they would not be able to survive another lockdown, with many under severe strain amid ongoing restrictions.

Of the 500 small to medium-sized companies involved in the survey, one in three also thought another lockdown would hurt more than the first.

A quarter, meanwhile, thought it would take at least 12-18 months to recover the financial losses from the crisis.

READ MORE: Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial paused after patient taken ill

"I have three kids," Ms Cotton continued. "This is my sole income.

"We went from a comfortable income in March down to zero. At the moment, we are now paying more money for our halls.

"We were a profitable business, but now it's just not very profitable. If we went down to six people, we won't make any money at all."

Trainmaster organises railway-themed events for children around the UK
Trainmaster organises railway-themed events for children around the UK. Picture: Chloe Cotton

Both entrepreneurs also told LBC they were confused by the government's messaging around the rules, which had caused them both further uncertainty.

Mr Fishpen told the station: "It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. How can you only have six people in your house but can sit with 50 complete strangers in the pub?"

For Ms Cotton, she said her sector had been "completely forgotten" in previous guidance, meaning she wasn't sure if she would now be included in exemptions - despite running COVID-secure events.

She added: "It's really, really frustrating that they send out a press release at 10pm with a press conference the next day because all that means is there is a lot of speculation and people try to interpret it.

"All these rumours start when the press releases come out, and then they seem to turn into almost-fact."

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