Cambridgeshire’s hospitality and retail businesses on life in Tier 4
Cambridgeshire has been adjusting to life in Tier 4 since joining other parts of the country in the most restrictive measures on Boxing Day amid the rapid spread of Covid-19.
Under Tier 4 restrictions, all non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys have been forced to close for two weeks.
People should also work from home where they can and no one should enter or leave Tier 4 areas, with limited exceptions. Communal worship can continue. The rules are due to be reviewed today (December 30).
The hospitality sector has also been hit hard by the restrictions. German Veyna Garcia is the co-owner of the Mexican food truck, Al Chile, which has one of its vehicles parked outside Cambridge station.
He said: “Entering Tier 4 means that obviously our sales will fall and we’ll have to rely more on Deliveroo.
“Tier 4, which is practically another lockdown, means that people aren’t going to the offices [in Station Square] that surround where the van is parked, and also fewer people are using the railway station.
"Being in Tier 4 now is even more damaging as many people are at home or on holiday anyway.”
German notes that another major problem for him and for many others is being able to afford the rent. “If we don’t get a discount on the rent, we’re going to keep losing money each month,” he said.
foodPark is a collective of Cambridge-based street food. Owner Becca Chong said: "Clearly, the last year has been particularly tough for many businesses but the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit.
"The latest restrictions will, of course, cause substantial further damage. My heart goes out to every single business who has suffered but I also commend all of the businesses who have adapted so quickly and shown great strength and resilience.
"Cambridge has some truly remarkable people and a huge amount of local support. I strongly encourage the Cambridge community to continue to support all of the local and independent businesses who are offering click and collect and takeaway services."
Simon Morrice, co-owner of The Urban Shed restaurant in Histon, said: “We need more funding from the government, that’s for sure, in order to continue – but as long as the staff are being furloughed and landlords are behaving, then people should be able to muddle through it.”
The Urban Shed has changed its offer. “We’ve stopped doing the takeaways,” said Simon. “We did them when no one else seemed to be doing it, and we were doing it at cost.
“But then when businesses started to reopen, with chip shops and Indian takeaways that specialise in these types of things, it became a bit cost prohibitive.”
Custom did pick up again when the restaurant reopened in July. “Business was good,” he recalled. “We were allowed to open our doors, albeit with the measures in place. We spent about £10,000 to reopen and by the end of October we were hitting figures that we hadn’t seen in a long time. But then of course the next lockdown came and then we were back to square one.”
But he felt that Cambridgeshire entering Tier 4 – up from Tier 2 – was “inevitable”.
“What was happening was there were people like us who spent the money and were well known for being very Covid-safe, but you could go to the pub down the road and there were minimal procedures in place.
“So as long as that was happening, you’re fighting a losing battle. So it was no surprise.”
Simon continued: “When we shut the doors in November, we couldn’t see how we’d recover from it, so in December we did pop-ups, but even then they weren’t cost-effective – and other businesses weren’t necessarily following the rules of making sure that people were from the same households, which was quite upsetting.”
Simon’s “gut feeling” is that a six-week lockdown will be announced by the government.
“I can’t see how industry’s going to reopen again given the heights that we’re at with the new strain of the infection,” he said, adding that the high number of cases reported over Christmas means he can’t imagine non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants being given permission to open any time soon.
Beleagured retailers, meanwhile, lost out on their traditional Boxing Day sales. By midday on December 26, footfall was down 60 per cent across the UK compared with last year, according to retail experts Springboard, and shoppers were expected to spend £1billion less, according to Barclaycard.
Paul Bentham, general manager at the Grand Arcade, said: “The jump to Tier 4 for the whole of the county will have a dramatic impact on the retail industry across the county and has unfortunately come at the worst time of year for retailers and local independents, as well as the national brands - but at least we had a small boost after the second lockdown through November.
"Government has tried to assist retail by allowing click and collect and takeaways to continue and some of our retailers at Grand Arcade are open for these services so it’s worth checking our website for details of those participating and checking out their winter sales offers.”
Paul continued: “We all have a responsibility to help protect the NHS along with ourselves and although this will hit retail in a negative way, adhering to the restrictions now will enable us to get back to as near normal sooner.
"If we can slow the infection rate now and give the NHS quite literally breathing space, while the immunisation programme is rolled out, we will see the restrictions being lifted sooner.”