I feel like the 16th March 2020 will be etched into my memory for ever.
This was the day that the Hospitality Industry’s world fell apart, and mine with it. This was the day that Boris Johnson advised the public to avoid bars, pubs and restaurants without giving a clear and formal instruction to do so.
As we know that formal instruction did come just days later, along with financial packages in the form of loans, grants, business rate holidays and the option to furlough staff for an initial three-month period. All very well and good, but how effective this all is and how many of our independent hospitality, retail and leisure businesses will not make it through to the other side remains to be seen. Scary stuff indeed.
So where did that leave We Love Good Times? I still don’t know, but I made a choice that day and I’m still going, sort of.
I knew on the 16th March that I would not be able to invoice any of my beloved customers for the foreseeable future. We have all experienced that feeling of dread and disbelief, and I had just as much reason to seriously panic as everyone else.
I created We Love Cheshire about eight years ago, after spending many years in operations setting up and running bars, restaurants and night clubs. I was physically shattered after over 25 years in the industry and had reached the dreaded burn-out stage. Our industry is relentless, often thankless and physically and emotionally draining. But the truth is that we all love it, and above everything else it is very, very rewarding.
So, by my late thirties I was ready to use my industry knowledge in a different way and set up a food & drink digital hub called We Love Cheshire. The objective was to bring all of the good quality lifestyle businesses in Chester and surrounding areas together, and to group all of their offers and events in one place to present to customers in a dynamic way. I wasn’t the first to have this idea and there are lots of other people doing something similar, so local advertising is just as competitive and tough as any other sector.
I must have been doing something right however as eight years later, I am still here with a shiny new brand, new website, new app and a team of shareholders who share the same passion and dedication as I do. But all of this means that the stakes are higher, and we didn’t see the Corona Crisis coming over the horizon at all.
But in business we have to think on our feet, and on that fateful day when I realised there was no revenue coming in for at least three months, I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do for the next 12 weeks (at least).
With fingers crossed that I would be able to furlough myself, I sat at my desk on Tuesday 17th March and decided that the city needed to work in a smart and collaborative way to get through this, and everyone who was able to make a contribution needed to, including me. So, I set up a Facebook group called ‘One Chester Plan – in response to the Coronavirus outbreak’ with my better half Phil, and made a start. One month on, this group has over 7,200 members and I am proud to say has helped and supported hundreds of local people and businesses.
I am working with the Destination Chester consortium chaired by Marketing Cheshire on the city’s Recovery Plan, and I feel that the One Chester group and my existing We Love Good Times platform has a great deal to offer.
We have created new guides all about Dining Well at home and are currently promoting our Pay It Forward Chester campaign, which groups together every business able to sell vouchers to the public to help with their cash flow. Every business is welcome into the scheme and from any sector. We have now extended the Pay It Forward Chester campaign to include vouchers for special benefits, treats and offers for NHS and key workers to be enjoyed by them when it’s safe to do so.
I am also working with Rob Meakin from Chester based tech company Loyalty Pro on the new One Chester app which will give every business and organization with a CH1-4 postcode a free listing with their trading-status in real-time, as they start to trade again as we enter the recovery period. We don’t know when that will be, but we know we will be ready.
All of my work is now voluntary, and I feel hugely grateful that I am able to carry on doing what I love every day albeit with a different purpose, to support local businesses through this crisis.
Of course I hope that the city supports me and We Love Good Times in the same way on the other side, but whatever happens – I will never forget feeling so needed, and so rewarded by the city and the industry that I love so much.