Well, what a time we’ve been having with the weather! Just when the snowdrops were in full bloom, the daffodils were well on their way and it looked like spring was finally here, along came The Beast from the East. And what a beast he was! Overnight, much of the country was under several inches of snow, schools we shut, trains were off and my social media feeds went into overdrive with pictures of snowy gardens, epic snowdrifts and kids sledging. It all looked rather lovely.
But then came the stories of people being stranded overnight on blocked roads, of remote communities being completely cut off, of non-essential services being suspended and essential NHS staff making heroic journeys for miles on foot just to keep things ticking over. It would appear that The Beast was aptly named.
As someone who works from home and therefore the morning commute simply involves walking downstairs, and with no kids to get off to school on a morning, I was unconcerned at first. However, it soon became clear that the weather was starting to worsen and wouldn’t be going away in a hurry. The arts market I was due to attend on the Friday was, understandably, cancelled. Whilst I was glad not to be faced with standing round all day in sub zero temperatures on a railway station concourse, I was gutted at the potential loss of earnings; it was a week away from Mother’s Day and, as a maker and seller of jewellery, it’s a key time for me. But no market = no sales = no income, for myself and another twenty or so traders, all solo enterprises, who also lost a potential stream of income.
My shift in Jaspah Crewe, a small but busy village gift shop in the village of Blanchland was also cancelled as it was deemed not worth the risk of travelling. I watched updates from the village pub / hotel coming through on social media; it turned out that I’d made the right decision not to try driving over, as the village had actually become completely cut off due to extremely heavy snow and drifts. Guests in the hotel were stranded; amusing at first perhaps, (I mean who wouldn’t want to be snowed in at a gorgeous pub with roaring fires and amazing food?) but after a couple of days of being stuck there, I think the joke was wearing thin. And the fact that they couldn’t get out meant other potential customers couldn’t get in, along with supplies, which eventually meant they had to close for everything except drinks for the locals until into the following week. The gift shop also remained closed for a week, until the roads into the village had been cleared and finally reconnected to the outside world. That of course meant more lost sales opportunities for me and the other shop members.
And this was by no means an isolated incident. I heard of so many rural pubs, cafés and shops in similar situations, with country lanes that were impassible to most ‘normal’ traffic resulting in cancelled reservations and no passing trade. With warnings not to travel on even the major routes, B&Bs and self catering cottages lost their bookings too.
When the snow started to clear, understandably these businesses were keen to get customers back in again. Given that cabin fever was starting to kick in at LollaMac HQ, we took the opportunity to head out to one of our favourite pubs for Sunday lunch (The Rat in Anick near Hexham; go there, you won’t be disappointed!). Even with the roads being cleared and the melt in full flow, their normally full lunchtime service was well down in numbers. And then two weeks later, just as things are starting to get back to ‘normal’ (whatever that might be), The Mini Beast strikes and another weekend’s trading is written off for many, as events such as Newcastle’s Quayside market are cancelled (understandably) at the last minute.
When extreme events such as this strike, everyone is affected and most businesses (unless you are a snow shovel or welly boot manufacturer perhaps) suffer. However, the big boys on the block, the likes of the large supermarket chains, high street giants, chain pubs a hotels, have the might of large corporations behind them to help weather the storm; their supply chain might be messed up for a time, footfall might be low or a few rooms remain empty, but they have the backing and market share to get through a rough couple of weeks. The small independents however, such as the artisan dessert maker left with a weekend’s worth full of perishable stock due to her usual markets being cancelled, don’t have this level of backing to see them through. This loss of revenue could be the tipping point for their business. In the current climate of having to compete with mass produced imports and high street price wars, many independents are already being squeezed as far as they can go, and there is simply no slack in their system.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, to put it bluntly, we need your support, your business, your custom. Not just because of the hard time many of us have had over the past weeks, but because no one knows what’s around the corner, when the next challenge will strike and at what point we decide our businesses can no longer survive. In the coming weeks and in the long term.
Think about buying your latté at a small cafe rather than one of the chain coffee shops that are ten to the penny in every town (they quite possibly have better coffee too and almost certainly free wifi!). Check out your local high street or nearby town centre and mooch around for small, independent boutiques rather than the retail chain stores (and you’ll feel good for not buying fast-fashion produced in factories of questionable ethics!). Rather than wandering round a shopping centre, have a drive out into the country for some wonderful views and enjoy lunch in a cosy pub or afternoon tea in a pretty little tea room. Rather than doing a one-stop-shop in the supermarket, buy something from your local butch or greengrocer, assuming you’re still lucky enough to have one (and you’ll also cut down on lot of unnecessary plastic too so it’s a win/win!). And if you’re looking for something special for a birthday, anniversary, housewarming or wedding gift, or just something to treat yourself, check out a local gift shop, craft fair or arts market.
There are so many ways you can help small, independent businesses in your area. It needn’t be much, and doesn’t have to cost you any extra time or money, but it WILL make a difference to us and I promise it’ll make you feel better knowing exactly where your hard earned money is going!