‘It was extremely scary. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights’

The particular business model of board game cafe Ludoquist, on Croydon High Street, has faced special challenges during the pandemic

Croydon businesses tell MARY LITCHFIELD how they have struggled to survive through lockdown with their government-funded grant aid

Croydon firms looking to get back to business after lockdown could apply to the council for grants of up to £10,000 under the Additional Restrictions Grant announced last week. But  they had better hurry – the council says the grants are “first-come, first-served”.

Coco & Nut Coffee Co opened on Station Parade in Sanderstead at the start of 2020. When the first lockdown came just three months later, owner Marina Walker didn’t know whether the business would survive.

“I didn’t think that my whole dream of having a small business was going to shut within the first three months. It was extremely, extremely scary at times. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights in terms of what’s going to happen.

“I’m a first-time employer as well, I had people who were dependent on me and the sort of decisions that we had to make in terms of employment, it wasn’t nice”.

Walker has welcomed the new funding but has found the latest grant application process more complicated. “I’m an accountant by trade and even I got a little bit confused in terms of what grant the company needs to apply for. I thought that was a little bit confusing and quite time-consuming as well.”

Unlike many businesses that applied during that first lockdownbut were kept waiting by the council for the government money, Walker received a grant within a couple of weeks. However, when applying for further funding in November, business owners had to complete a questionnaire on the council website that asked whether their businesses were open.

Many owners who had to keep their doors closed, except for takeaways and deliveries, were automatically told they were not eligible for the grant.

The combination of government grants and a welcoming Sanderstead community has helped Coco & Nut to survive the challenges of running a business during the pandemic.

Coco & Nut opened their business in Sanderstead in Jan 2020. In March, covid forced them to close

“The community was actually fantastic,” Walker said. “The customers were supporting us throughout. I thought it was just great to see people who were just coming into the shop and saying, ‘We’ll support you’. We’re very happy.

“The fact that the government actually provides such support is actually really important for small business because they won’t survive otherwise.”

Nick and Carrie Smith run Ludoquist, the board game café and bar on Croydon High Street, which – with its main offer being centred on a choice of 1,000 board games to play – had its own special challenges presented by covid-19.

Ludoquist has been closed for the majority of the past year and has kept the business afloat with funding from the government. However, the limited grant of £3,000 a month doesn’t even cover half of their monthly outgoings.

“The fixed costs of rent and utilities, insurance, all of that, is about £8,000 or £9,000 a month,” Nick Smith said. “Everybody in hospitality is surviving on debt in the last year. We’ve been able to trade for essentially two months, not even remotely approaching full capacity.

“The UK Government chose to go flat rate, which I understand – making it simple and easy for everyone to get access to without having to fill in lots of details about numbers is good. But it does mean if your costs are larger, you’re not getting anything more. We are basically in much more debt than we were a year ago.”

Ludoquist has received more in donations from the local community than government funding in the past month. They have also set up a variety of ventures that help fund their business whilst benefiting the community, such as selling board games.

They have sold almost 100 educational games which help disadvantaged children who are being schooled at home. A fund to pay for NHS staff to have a party at Ludoquist has so far raised £1,200.

The council announced last week three new grants available to eligible local businesses: £2,000 per business with fixed property costs in Croydon of less than £1,500 per month; a £5,000 grant for businesses with fixed property costs in Croydon above £1,500 per month; and a £10,000 grant for workspace providers that offer serviced office support to small and medium-sized businesses. The £10,000 grant is available to eligible businesses whether they are currently open or not due to covid-19.

To be eligible, the business must trade from a Croydon address, have been active on January 5, 2021, be able to prove at least a 10 per cent income drop, and have a £15,000 annual turnover. Grants, the council states,  are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information, and to apply for the latest grant, click here.

Read more: Free money! But Croydon Council can’t even give it away
Read more: Council leaves 400 firms waiting for ‘urgent’ covid grants
Read more: Negrini blames businesses for failure to distribute covid grants


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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