An email dropped into our inboxes on the 24th March 2020 from the Kent & Medway Growth Hub asking if we would be part of a team being set up to support businesses in Kent and Medway as we headed into a national lockdown.
We said yes, and within 2 days the Covid19 Response Task Force was up and running as the country ground to a halt.
Our role was to help businesses through those exceptional times when, without warning, we were told to “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives”.
Immediately the lines lit up, from first thing in the morning until well into the evening, and over the following months we handled thousands of calls from distressed business owners needing help.
Initially they were about the lockdown restrictions, what they could and couldn’t do, what financial support was available, how to access it and what they had to do to protect their staff, customers and themselves. It was about survival! One example was a charter boat company who fell through the cracks of financial support, but after months of engaging with their local authority, we were able to help them receive a grant which covered their mooring fees and kept them afloat.
As the service evolved, we helped businesses adapt or pivot, including a hotel owner who contacted their local hospital and offered accommodation for Key Workers during lockdown.
We supported businesses of all types and sizes, from sandwich bars to farmers, retail shops to breweries, landlords and many more with simple advice helping them access grants and signposting them to support so they survived a scenario none were prepared for.
It was challenging and with high call volumes, long hours and, in many cases, desperate business owners who did not know which way to turn. However, the advice and support we were able to give, along with being a real human being they could talk to, really made a difference.
“Thank you so much for your help yesterday…it was really great to get some advice, which actually made sense too!”
As the Government made daily announcements, introduced new support and constantly changed what you could and couldn’t do, we waded through a never-ending stream of Government emails learning about Furlough, CBILS, Bounce Back Loans, Local Restriction Support Grants, SEISS, which all became part of the language. The 5 O’clock Government briefings became part of our daily routine, as did the spike in calls with businesses asking us to decipher what it meant for them.
Our support was essential as we guided them through the ever-changing maze of grants and support available, championing many, so they received the funding and help they needed to ensure their survival.
“Thank you very much for your help and guidance with these grants. I have had confirmation that we will be receiving 4 grants totalling nearly £9,500 which is absolutely amazing”
The high level of calls continued throughout the year into the second lockdown before Christmas and into the New Year, by which time our support had evolved to include the hotline, one-to-one and group online support where we were able to help business owners in a safe and confidential environment.
“We find ourselves at a difficult point with Covid and Brexit and it is at these times we really need support and guidance. The sessions have allowed me time to listen to others and reflect on the different approaches to the situation”.
Over the last 18 months we have been on a journey with business owners. Often, they were just happy to have someone to talk to who understood and had the knowledge and experience to help and, to many, we have become an integral part of their support network sharing their challenges as well as successes.
There have been some difficult and emotional conversations, and at times, it has been draining and mentally exhausting. Having said that, we feel a real sense that we have made a significant difference to the lives of so many people.
The Covid19 Business Support Hotline has handled over 18,500 calls and we are incredibly proud to have been part of this invaluable service which was provided by the Kent & Medway Growth Hub and funded by KCC and the Local Authorities.
It is not over yet and we continue to provide support to businesses as they recover from the effects of the pandemic and help them build successful futures.
For further information on the support available please don’t hesitate to contact us