Cambridge businesses ‘wearied’ by Covid restrictions changes – In Your Area

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Pictured above: Ruth Reyes, manager of the Ark on Peas Hill. (Credit: Keith Jones).

Businesses are “wearied” by the changes in Covid restrictions, but many are optimistic for what the new year will bring.

Cambridge high street businesses said that coming under the strictest restrictions was disappointing, but not surprising, as they prepared to shut their doors from today (Saturday).

On Wednesday, health secretary Matt Hancock announced that Cambridgeshire would be under Tier 4 restrictions, which sees non-essential businesses close, though they can remain open for takeaways and collections.

Judith Harrison, owner of Stir, a café and bakery on Chesterton Road, said: “This year’s been quite difficult because we had the shock of the first lockdown but as we’ve adapted and changed and adapted again, I think you just get used to it in a way.

“I don’t think anyone’s surprised. We knew it was coming; but the surprise is that it’s happening so quickly.

“I thought it would be in the new year, and that would give us time to plan.

“I think we’re just resigned to the fact that we’ll be open as a takeaway for a while.”

She added that she was devastating for the independent shops who will not survive, as they “bring so much to our high street that is chock-full of chains”.

However, she said that reflecting back on the year, many good things have happened for the business.

Stir owner Judith Harrison. (Credit: David Johnson).

Judith said: “We had to change lots of things, like our technology, which is a good thing for the future.

“We had to go online for the bakery business, which we’d been talking about doing forever but never got round to it.

“Though it was hard and a bit messy, now we’ve got it going, so it’s brought a lot of things to a head which will be good for the future.

“It’s also brought us a lot closer to our customers and our community because we were able to get out and deliver to them when they needed it most.

“If I had to reflect on what’s happening next with Tier 4, it’s not ideal but it’s something we have to live with – and my goodness there are so many other people worse off than us.

“I have to keep telling myself that no matter how scary it is I will always look after my staff and make sure we’re here in some shape or form but some people aren’t going to survive.

“I feel bad for the businesses who are not going to survive, and I’m a bit wearied for that reason.”

Stir café.

Stir will close its café – not its bakery – until January 2, even though it can stay open for takeaways.

Judith said: “Our staff are so tired. They just need a good break, and we’ll play it by ear from the 2nd.

She added: “It’s a bit like ‘here we go again’. We’ve been where so many times. It’s the constant adaptations.

“We’ve got our systems in place, so it’s not as drastic as the first couple of times where we had to rethink completely. We know what we’re doing.

“If we all do this and we all play our part then hopefully we’ll come through the next couple of months and that will be it.

“You have to look at the positives. It’s so bleak and so grim and so worrying and so anxiety-inducing, but if I look back on the year I have to look at the positives when I find them.”

Other businesses said they were similarly tired of the changes, but accepting of them and willing to play their part.

Ruth Reyes, manager of Ark Cambridge, on Peas Hill, said: “It doesn’t feel good. It is what it is. If it helps curtail the virus and get things back to normal, then it’s what we have to do.

“We’ll still be open online, just not as frequently with deliveries as before.

“January’s a bit quiet, so if there’s any time that’s not the worst for restrictions, then it’s January.”


She added that she preferred being put into restrictions as soon as possible, rather than weeks of uncertainty.

“We were hoping for an announcement as soon as possible, rather than dragging our feet,” said Ruth.

“It’s good to just have it done.

“The plan now is we’re going to take a rest because we’ve been working hard this year! The restrictions are forcing us to take a break, which is not always so bad.

“You have to see the bright side of things.”

Italian café Aromi, which has branches on Bene’t Street, Fitzroy Street, and Peas Hill near the market, said they continued to feel the impact of a lack of students and tourists.

Paolo Pellegrino, one of the managers, said: “It’s really quiet here on Bene’t Street. We’re going to reduce production in the shops, because with no students around and no tourists it’s totally different.


“We’ll see what happens. We’ll start doing takeaways from just after Christmas. It’s just going to be really quiet.”

Accounting firm Grant Thornton, which has a base in Milton, said businesses it had spoken to were braced for further cuts and restructurings.

UK data from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report found that while 72 per cent of UK mid-sized businesses could continue to trade using only existing funds, 44 per cnet would have to cut costs and restructure to do so.

It added that almost half of businesses expected to see a decrease in revenue, with 29 per cent expecting a significant decrease of more than 10 per cent.

The report also highlighted how the combination of restrictions with the planned end of the Brexit transition period meant more than half of businesses said their growth was seriously constrained over the next 12 months by red tape and regulation,

James Brown, practice leader at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: “The latest data demonstrates just how challenging the operating environment continues to be for UK businesses.

“There will be more difficult decisions to be made by business leaders across the country in the coming days, weeks, and months.

“As Tier 4 restrictions look likely to spread further across the country, and with the end of the Brexit transition period almost upon us, it is crucial that business leaders build on the resilience and agility they have displayed throughout this year.

“Drawing on what they have learnt over the last nine months they are well positioned to act quickly to limit negative impacts and capitalise on opportunities.

“Despite the uncertain environment, with second and third waves of Covid-19 hitting many markets across the world, it’s clear from the findings that a need for digital business models, data management and skills and talent for the future continues to drive investment decisions.

“It is encouraging to see mid-market businesses very much at the forefront in this regard.

“Though it is unquestionably good news that vaccines are starting to roll out in some markets, it will still be some time before we return to anything approaching normality – and so the uncertain, volatile operating climate will continue.

” Many businesses have already made transformational changes to their operating models and investments in the future, and this shows no sign of abating as everyone looks to ensure they are able to compete in a post-Covid world.”

The county’s politicians seemed resigned to accepting the changes.

Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge’s Labour MP, said: “Sadly I think it is the right decision for Cambridge to go into Tier 4.

“The new strain of the virus is spreading very quickly, Addenbrooke’s Hospital is super-busy and more people are getting ill.

Daniel Zeichner visiting small businesses on Small Business Sunday in December.

“Hopes were raised around the availability of vaccines earlier this month but right now we need to take maximum care.  

“We end 2020 with one of the highest death tolls in Europe, businesses are struggling and the virus is once again out of control. All those sacrifices and it feels like we are back to where we were in March.”

Anthony Browne, South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP, said: “This is news that no one wanted to hear.

“It is a hammer blow to businesses and to all our aspirations to return to normal.

“But the shocking rise of infections – doubling in less than a week – as a result of the new variant has left the government with no choice.

Anthony Browne MP.

“We had the original virus pretty much under control, but this new more infectious mutation, which has spread across the South East, London and now East Anglia, requires even tougher measures.

“We still have to keep cases down until the vaccine is rolled out and the elderly and vulnerable protected.”

A review of the lockdown measures is planned for December 30, but the Prime Minister has warned that they are likely to be in place at least through New Year’s Eve.

Health secretary Matt Hancock warned that the Tier 4 restrictions could be in place for several months, due to the new Covid-19 variant, which is highly infectious.

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