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Cornwall’s coastal communities have been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 lockdown, leaving local businesses needing to make significant changes to resume trading.

When the UK lockdown began on 16th March, this led to the closure of all non-essential businesses nationwide including offices, retailers, the hospitality sector, leisure centres, gyms, cinemas, theatres, pubs, restaurants and many more.

The Office of National Statistics revealed that by April 2020 (the first full month of lockdown), 46.6% of employed people in the UK did some work from home. Out of these, 86% were doing so as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Companies have introduced new technology to enable employees from offices, call centres, customer helplines, utility companies, banks and other desk-based jobs to work from home.

Homeworking in Cornwall

An estimated 22% of the total workforce in Cornwall has been homeworking during the pandemic, but in a region that relies largely on tourism, this has been an exceptionally tough time.

A joint study by the Centre for Towns and the University of Southampton suggests Newquay is the worst-affected town in the UK, with 56.2% of the population working in sectors that have been shut down by Covid-19 – including non-food retail, art and leisure, accommodation, pubs and restaurants.

Other towns that have seen a high number of business premises shut down during lockdown include St Ives, where 48% of people are employed in closed-down sectors, Penzance (42.2%) and Falmouth (40.6%). The study by the Centre for Towns reveals 72,800 jobs have been lost in Cornwall during lockdown, accounting for 27% of the total workforce.

Reduced office space

For those who have survived so far, looking to the future, they may decide it’s more efficient and cost-effective to continue working from home where possible. Business can re-invest the money saved from office space into websites, eCommerce platforms and digital marketing platforms.

A survey of 1,000 employers in the UK found 70% were ready to be more flexible about working from home in the future, with around 50% citing money savings as one of the prime reasons. Prior to the lockdown, only 45% of bosses said they felt comfortable about employees working away from the office.

Moving forward, 57% of those surveyed were already looking into ways of adapting their usual practices to incorporate homeworking, with around 33% planning to offer more services online and 20% actively looking to reduce their current office space.

Around 80% of employers planned to use video conferencing more for meetings to keep in tune with social distancing regulations. Staggered starting times were also being considered by bosses, who wanted to give their staff the freedom to work in this changing climate.

Tourism and Covid-19

While the lockdown may have unexpectedly found the silver lining in the cloud for office workers, it’s a different story for people employed in the tourism industry. According to Visit Cornwall, the region is likely to suffer a massive £1.1 billion loss of income in 2020 due to the lockdown – a drop of 81%.

When the lockdown began, fears were raised that some tourism businesses wouldn’t survive the winter without any summer trade. However, since the lockdown was relaxed slightly to allow hotels in England to reopen on 4th July, the prediction is slightly brighter.

It was good news for UK holiday resorts when the government imposed a 14-day quarantine period for people flying back home from holidays abroad, including Spain and France. The quarantine was imposed for Spain on 27th July and for France on 15th August. As a result, tourism is gradually returning back to the UK, as holidaymakers are deciding it isn’t worth the hassle of having to self-isolate for two weeks just to go on a foreign holiday.

According to research from Visit Cornwall, 65% of people say they feel confident resuming normal activities several months after the Covid-19 outbreak. It is hoped this will help the economy come back up to a level where the county’s tourism industry can survive.

In Newquay, 26% of workers are employed in the accommodation sector – including hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, caravan parks and campsites. This is more than anywhere else in the UK. After the closure of the sector for nearly four months, the revenue associated with tourism is scarce and the reopening couldn’t have come soon enough.

Safety measures

While the tourism industry has reopened, visitors will have to adapt to the new safety measures, such as social distancing and wearing face masks.

It has been compulsory to wear face coverings in shops since 24th July. People are now required to wear them when visiting museums, cinemas, galleries and places of worship in England. They must also be worn in any enclosed public spaces such as post offices, shopping centres, banks, railway stations, airports and bus stations. People aren’t required by law to wear a face mask in pubs, cafés, or restaurants. Anyone who breaks the safety regulation can be fined up to £100 for their first offence, with the police enforcing the rules.

Restaurants and bars have been required to alter their layouts to ensure parties of customers remain at least 6ft from each other, so tables and stools are marked as being not in use to ensure customers understand the rules. The seating capacity is reduced, on average, to 70%, so customers can adhere to social distancing.

How have businesses promoted their services?

Local town centres have lost numerous shops and small businesses as a result of the lockdown. The famous pasty maker Malcolm Barnecutt closed its St Austell town centre café on 14th July, blaming Covid-19. While the bakery will remain open, the café on Fore Street closed for good, with nine job-losses.

However, fears that the high street has died in general are largely unfounded. According to a study earlier this year by Geek Wire, 22% of the population shopped online two years ago, compared with 42% today. Despite the sharp increase, research suggests that while many shopping experiences start online, they end in a high street store. Consumers are looking online to get ideas, but they will also go to the retailer’s bricks-and-mortar store to look in person afterwards.

In post-lockdown Newquay, locals have reported it feels “busier than before”, as customers begin patronising their favourite businesses again. Shops, hotels and restaurants are reporting brisk trade. Since a quiet reopening weekend on 4th July, people are finally returning to the town centre. In fact, a number of new businesses have opened during lockdown.

Ecommerce revolution

Covid-19 has led to a massive 85,000 businesses launching new online stores over the past four months, according to research by Growth Intelligence.

More than 750,000 businesses were forced to close their bricks-and-mortar premises due to lockdown, so it was hardly surprising they accelerated their digital transformation, as they adjusted to the “new normal” and met the increasing demands for online trading. This was the highest number of new eCommerce stores ever recorded over a four-month period.

In the fashion sector, a total of 8,665 businesses added eCommerce technology, with manufacturing close behind on 7,129 sites, followed by food and drink retailers, agriculture, fisheries, pharmacies and industrial food production.

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