So, here we are… lockdown week four. Where first this all seemed like a far-fetched episode of Black Mirror playing out in real life, sending loads of us all into a loo-roll-hoarding, pasta-party tailspin, it now feels like people are settling into their new normal. If that means sitting about watching Friends reruns in your trackies, fine; if you’re using the time to reset and shake of that junk food habit, great; if you’re drinking too much wine and ending each night internally debating what on earth it could’ve been that Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love, good for you. Whatever we’re all doing to adapt and get through this is enough. But how have businesses adapted? And to what aim? While some have been exposed by the coronavirus to be ruthless, money-grabbing plonkers (give us a wave, Mr Wetherspoons), others, whose income has taken a relative battering, have used this crisis to reach out and help those in need. Altruistic heroes, we salute you.
Life can be a tricky little blighter to navigate at the best of times, but especially now, with money worries creeping in and stress levels weirdly tipping between ‘shit, we’re going to lose everything!’ to ‘actually, I’m totally fine!’, it’s good to know there’s a bit of guidance out there should you start to come unstuck. Cue Luana Ribeira, a powerhouse of entrepreneurial energy who helps people all over the world live their best lives from her home in Portugal and has set up a free Facebook group based on the principle that we’re all better when we’re working together to support each other.
“My free Facebook group ‘Thrive in Quarantine -Entertainment, Guidance and Support!’ helps lead both adults and children through this daunting time,” explains Luana. “Based on the principle of thriving together, it features a free weekly timetable of activities, lessons and entertainment that members will be able to take part in from the safety and comfort of their own homes.”
Featuring masterclasses on everything from family fitness to numerous how-tos including grow your own food, start an online business and even how to write a book, Luana’s gone the extra mile to keep our minds as healthy as our creativity offering advice for the more personal trials we might be facing during this unusual time on topics such as ‘coronanxiety’ and homeschooling like a boss. She’s even chucking in competitions and games to keep us entertained.
“Together, we will thrive!” Adds Luana. “I started the Facebook group to build resilience in anyone who is uncertain about what they are facing, including myself and got the idea for the initiative from my own experiences of living minimally in Portugal for three months without power, internet or even running water. This period of tranquility sparked my fire, which led to the release of my best-selling book and starting my own business.”
Huge props to James Morgenstern’s brand new startup, Heather Wellbeing, a company he launched in just seven days with the sole purpose of providing vital mental health support to NHS frontline staff fighting COVID-19. Following highly publicised emotional pleas from doctors and nurses dealing with the huge pressures and number of patients taken seriously ill with coronavirus, they will now be offered at least six free psychotherapy sessions with UK mental health practitioners over the phone via Heather Wellbeing’s network of professional therapists who have all volunteered to help.
The company already has over 100 fully accredited therapists ready to provide support, with the overall aim of growing the initiative to over 1,000 therapists and 12,000 hours of therapy – a package worth more than £1,000,000 and delivered for free directly to NHS staff in need.
“The UK’s recent lockdown has seen a number of emotional pleas from nurses and doctors go viral on social media, painting pictures of personal sacrifice, self-isolation, separation from families, and the physical and mental toll of working gruelling hours at hospitals looking after patients who are either seriously sick or dying from the coronavirus,” says James. “During this time of uncertainty and strain, the task our nurses and doctors face is daunting on every front, but it’s critical to their health, their patients’ lives and our country overall that their wellbeing is looked after. I see therapy as crucial support to help during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and we are doing our best to help through the creation of this initiative – the long-term plan for Heather Wellbeing is to help people improve their mental health and wellbeing, and helping NHS workers right now aligns with this mission.”
NHS frontline staff can book a 50-minute therapy session via the Heather Wellbeing website at a time convenient to them between 7am to 9pm. The process is quick and easy for those seeking support who fill out a short form and are quickly matched with a trained therapist who will provide six sessions, typically worth £80 each, entirely free. Subsequent sessions after this initial period can be arranged, as needed, directly with the therapist and all consultations are undertaken via video call on FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Skype.
“All therapy in the Heather Wellbeing free therapy initiative is provided free of charge to NHS frontline staff,” adds James. “We appreciate it’s a hard time for many people right now, but if the general public are looking for ways to help in our mission, we have set up a GoFundMe page to help us cover the running costs for the service as it scales. You can donate at www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-nhs-mental-health. Anything you can give is truly appreciated and will make a world of difference; never have NHS staff needed our support more, so please help share, support and grow the initiative.”
Crudo Cevicheria is extremely cool for two reasons: firstly, it’s London’s first build-your-own cevicheria where you can customise your very own ceviche via a colourful menu of proteins, marinades and tasty extras. (If you haven’t had ceviche – a Peruvian dish that consists of raw fish marinated in citrus juices – you need to rectify that as soon as you are allowed out.) Secondly, Crudo’s director Maria Yanez has turned the corona crisis into an opportunity for compassion.
“We opened Crudo Cevicheria last September in Fitzrovia and have had a very positive year, growing our business each week and forming a loyal customer base,” says Maia. “We had great expansion plans including opening a second location later this year, but unfortunately all that stopped when the coronavirus happened – within a week our sales dropped to a tenth of the trend we had seen in previous weeks and for a young business like ours, each day of sales is crucial to maintain operations.”
Hit hard by an insecure financial forecast and demotivated with the overall situation, Maria and her team of six other employees chose not to be defeated however, but to look at how they could turn such an adverse situation into an opportunity for altruism.
“Almost immediately, we started looking for opportunities to generate more customers to keep our business alive,” she explains. “Not knowing when this will all end is the toughest part, but we know it will end and that when it does, we are betting that London will still be the exciting food scene we all love, which is what led us to come up with Local Small Businesses – a website where loyal customers can buy vouchers from their favourite restaurants, a round of drinks for friends at the local pub, a flat white at their beloved coffee shop or a haircut to support their local barbershop and use them later down the line. The idea is simple: businesses have the chance to sell their services or vouchers for future use and as a customer, you in turn are helping businesses generate that extra revenue that allows them to cover their fixed costs.”
Perfectly illustrating that altruism isn’t something confined to our capital, Matt Tomkin, founder and owner at Tao Digital Marketing in Bolton, has set up a similar initiative to support other businesses who are finding it difficult to cope during this unexpected outbreak.
“We’re a small digital marketing agency and while working from home is reasonably easy for us to adapt to, many of our clients are financially struggling and understandably cutting or reducing their marketing spend with us,” says Matt. “We started to see more and more local businesses on social media who were, and still very much are, worried about their future and we simply wanted to unite and utilise our skills to support others in need. As a result, we’ve set up the website Save a Small Business Today where users can see which businesses are on their doorstep and work out how best they can support them through these difficult times.”
Although many Bolton businesses are now closed for the foreseeable future, some of the businesses listed on Matt’s website are offering gift vouchers for use when they reopen and others are still doing contactless home deliveries.
“There are over 20 small businesses and freelancers currently listed on our site and the majority are local although we’d love to expand into other areas and regions to support more and more small businesses,” adds Matt. “If you’ve taken a financial blow and haven’t got much cash to spare at the moment, your support can be shown by simply following them on social media and helping them spread their brand message.”
‘Complacency is the enemy of a thriving business.’ Living up to the promise their motto suggests, The Initiative is a young, forward-thinking company who had already set about massively diversifying their existing hospitality business within the week that lockdown was announced. Having now shut down five of their six UK-wide sites (London, Manchester and Tunbridge Wells), they’ve switched up the offering of their newest site, Deli Cat & Sons in Broken Wharf, to become a food & drink delivery service and online grocery store, which raises money for a foodbank to help those who have been left struggling and unemployed in the hospitality industry.
As part of the new online delivery service, £1 from every order will be donated to a foodbank set up to support hospitality workers who’ve been left unemployed as a result of the lockdown – there is an option to donate more when customers checkout their grocery purchases and registrations for food survival kits can be made at email@example.com. The Initiative intend to create 100 food kits per week and, against all odds, have managed to keep all their team employed and even hired extra helpers from the industry to help fulfil the surge of online orders. They are now distributing hundreds of survival packs a week to those who have registered and need it most.
Another string to their already pretty innovative bow, The Initiative are also launching a series of virtual supper clubs starting on Friday 10th April. Everything you need will be delivered to your door along with details of a broadcast that you can stream at home – cooking alongside a renowned chef – and a load of tempting additional extras such as wine pairing and cocktails. Each week, a new chef will be announced to lead the supper club, along with a new menu to accompany: www.sevenrooms.com/reservations/delicat.
As if the intense long hours involved in helping those with corona recover from the virus’s nasty symptoms wasn’t enough, frontline NHS staff are now having to deal with chapped, sore skin due to near-constant handwashing, a problem West Yorkshire based company, Thornton & Ross is hoping to alleviate with free skincare.
“When we were made aware that nurses and other frontline staff were suffering with skin problems as a result of increased hand washing and use of sanitisers, we wanted to help,” says director of marketing, Janet Maclean. “We are a leading supplier of high-quality pharmaceuticals headquartered in Germany with a long-standing heritage and worldwide presence in over 120 countries and have been identified as key workers by the government to continue the manufacture and supply of vital products and emollients to consumers and the NHS.”
“With recent Covid-19 challenges, NHS workers have reported that more frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitisers is drying out their skin and prolonged use of facemasks can result in unpleasant skin irritation too. To support these healthcare workers, we’re donating free samples from the Cetraben® and Zeroderma® emollient ranges to alleviate dry skin issues as NHS staff work around the clock to care for patients.”
“The samples are in 30g and 50g sized tubes and pumps, which fit neatly into a pocket, and in use they eliminate the cross-infection risk associated with full-size containers,” adds Janet. “Thornton & Ross has contacted NHS directors of nursing, critical care wards and nursing groups to offer the products via an email request system. Each member of staff will receive six samples of either Cetraben or Zeroderma, both of which are ideal for relieving irritation. As the UK’s leading prescription emollient company, it goes without saying that we are only too happy to support our NHS colleagues at this critical time.”
A Devon-based self-catering holiday cottage rental company, Sweetcombe Holiday Cottage is a core team of five but employs over 70 self-employed cleaners, window cleaners and maintenance operatives throughout the year. Although the company has had to cancel all current bookings and stop taking further bookings indefinitely, they’ve appealed to many of their owners to provide a safe haven for those having to self-isolate.
“We are extremely short staffed due to having to put the office team on the furlough scheme and yet we’re busier than ever with admin having to transfer hundreds of bookings up until 4th June,” says manager Polly Burns. “We haven’t taken any new bookings for the last three weeks due to all the uncertainty with regard to travel and we are not accepting bookings until June at the very earliest – our commission isn’t payable until the holiday has taken place and therefore we have no income.”
“We are local to the area and have lived in Devon for over 50 years as a family however, so we understand how important it is for communities to stick together during challenging times,” adds Polly. “As soon as we realised the potential impact of COVID-19, we immediately advised our owners and guests that holidays would not be able to take place for the full 12-week period due to our vulnerable ageing local population. We informed our local MP, councils and residents that we are helping as much as we can in order to stop the spread of this virus and some of our owners have agreed to help local people self-isolate in their uninhabited properties, or allowed local people to use their holiday let at heavily discounted rates.”
Let’s leave this on a real cockle warmer… Hit massively by an immediate stop to all of her formerly successful cooking classes for both adults and children, Libby Gordon, owner of The Happy Kitchen Food Company in Essex, has chosen to focus her energies on providing the most vulnerable people in our society with healthy home-cooked food. What’s more, she’s providing it for free wherever possible.
“As soon as coronavirus struck, my business ceased immediately because I can no longer hold cookery classes and no one’s having parties so there’s been no requirement for my party boxes,” explains Libby. “My immediate idea was to provide healthy ‘ready meals’ for the vulnerable who are self-isolating, so, in conjunction with Finchingfield Post Office (01371 810310), a twice-weekly list of those who need help is being collected, I’m then preparing fresh Happy Kitchen Food Company which are distributed via the Post Office. Local donations have meant that the meals are free to those in need, so it’s lovely that people are pulling together.”
“I never anticipated that my business would go down this way,” she adds, “but it’s helping the local community and it is keeping me going by giving me a routine to stick to until times get better, which they will!”