One year on: Why two businesses based in the rural areas around Leamington and Warwick are remaining optimistic that things will turn around this year

One year since the first lockdown began, businesses can now start to look to the future once again

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 8:42 am

One year on from the first national lockdown, two businesses based in the rural areas around Leamington and Warwick are remaining optimistic that things will turn around this year.

Underwood Wines near Snitterfield and independent car dealership Foakeswagons in Warmington have both been helped by business grants from Stratford District Council.

And now with the roadmap in place for restrictions being eased, both can start planning their futures again.

Nick Underwood (of Underwood Wines) and Rachel Foakes (of Foakeswagons).

Nick Underwood, who runs wine merchants Underwood Wines, said: “Our trade has been down quite a bit, but we’ve got by through our sales to private customers and the grants we’ve received through the council.

“That said, we can’t wait for pubs and restaurants to reopen so we can start selling to them again.

"We’re hopeful larger events like weddings and big birthday parties will make a comeback too.

“It’s been a pretty grim year, but we’re still here and we’re really looking forward to everything opening up once again.”

Nick Underwood of Underwood Wines.

Rachel Foakes, who runs independent car dealership Foakeswagons in Warmington, has found the last 12 months to be a ‘rocky road’, although she remains optimistic.

She said: “I was in a good place last summer – I was allowed to reopen in June and things were going well. But then the various restrictions came in, and I’ve actually been shut since December because car dealerships are classed as ‘non-essential’, meaning customers couldn’t visit.

“People need to at least see a car before they buy it, and it’s only me who runs Foakeswagons, so I’ve got no one who can deliver cars like the large dealerships can.

“But the grants I’ve received while I’ve been shut have kept me ticking over, and now the government’s announced its roadmap out of lockdown, I’m hopeful I can reopen properly in April.

Rachel Foakes of Foakeswagons.

“I’m just excited to start working again. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m confident the customers will come back and I can begin to recover.”

While the last 12 months have been incredibly difficult, the district is now ready to gradually open up to residents and tourists alike.

Stratford District Council’s chief executive, David Buckland, thanked everyone working at the council for their dedication in what has been an incredibly tough year.

“I have to pay tribute to every single one of our officers who have worked so hard over the last 12 months to get us to this point,” he said.

“Whether it be the revenues team making sure businesses got given grants, environmental health making sure shops were following COVID safety guidelines, or our homelessness team securing emergency accommodation for those on the streets – they have all made a huge difference to the district’s fortunes.

“Ensuring the continued delivery of our services throughout this crisis was absolutely crucial, and every council department stepped up.

“There’s still quite a way to go before our district recovers completely, but thanks to our hard work in the last year and the take-up of the vaccine, I think we can get there.”

To get to this point, the council itself had to make sweeping changes to the way it ran its services and provide extra support to those who needed it.

Many council staff were given extra IT support to allow them to work from home, further emergency accommodation was provided for the homeless, and a huge food delivery operation through its new Community Shielding Hub delivered hundreds of food parcels to the most vulnerable.

The council has also paid out around £700,000 to support those struggling to pay council tax during the pandemic, as well as £102,000 to support Test and Trace operations.

Council leader Cllr Tony Jefferson said: “It has been a long and arduous effort to get through what has been a dreadful and, for many, a tragic, time but hopefully as vaccination levels rise, our knowledge of this awful virus grows and the weather starts to improve, the light at the end of the Covid tunnel will become larger and brighter.

“Looking ahead six months, I sincerely hope that we are well clear of lockdown and returning to normality. Locally, more than anything, I would like to see tourists returning safely to our area and stimulating the recovering of our hospitality and retail businesses.”

Businesses have also benefitted from the council’s efforts to ensure all in the district got the government grants they were entitled to while they were unable to trade.

An online business grants application form was created to allow applications to be processed more quickly, and staff worked long hours to give businesses advice and guidance.

This meant more than £50 million was paid out to businesses by the council over the last 12 months.