Caroline Wakil and Emma Gregory Image copyright Urbanberry
Image caption Caroline Wakil and Emma Gregory founded travel recruitment firm Urbanberry in 2017

“We don’t want the business to fail, we’ve worked really hard and we love it,” says Emma Gregory, who – together with Caroline Wakil – has built Urbanberry into a £140,000-a-year business.

But since the coronavirus outbreak, all the interviews set up by the fledging travel recruitment firm have been cancelled.

“This is devastating for us, it means no income indefinitely and all the people we love helping are losing their jobs and we have nothing to offer them,” Emma told the BBC.

They are just one of the millions of small firms trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

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Media caption“We’re £12,000 down because of coronavirus”

Many industries are suffering due to the impact of social distancing and self-isolation, with the travel industry being one of the hardest hit.

Emma and Caroline started their specialist firm in October 2017 with the aim of creating a business that also enabled them to have a life.

But, despite splitting the working week to make time for family Ms Gregory says they never have a day off.

“We basically do anything to try to build our business.”

Future in doubt

Emma and Caroline worry that the future of that business is in doubt as a result of firms putting a freeze on hiring amid uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.

They hope the government will step in to help small businesses through the crisis.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The travel and hospitality sectors are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic

“We don’t have the resources or additional revenue streams that a larger business will have and for us, a delay in paying corporation tax bills that are due in July would be beneficial,” Emma says.

“Temporary help with childcare costs to enable us to keep ploughing away at recovering our business and not have to withdraw our children from coveted nursery spots – which would then impact the childcare provider themselves – would also be hugely appreciated.”

‘Increasingly bleak’ prospects

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) chair Mike Cherry told the BBC: “Many will feel like they are being made to choose between their health and the very survival of their business. Nobody should have to make this choice.”

“These are already very difficult times for all small businesses right across the country. There are huge concerns over supply chains, while on top of this footfall continues to drop. The prospect for these businesses over the coming weeks is increasingly bleak.

“The self-employed in particular will be worried about their livelihoods if they lose contracts or must go into self-isolation,” he said.

“It’s critical that the necessary support is in place to support the 5.8 million small businesses and self-employed.”

The leisure and hospitality industry has also been calling for help after Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged everyone to avoid unnecessary social contact and to stay away from pubs and restaurants.

Even before the prime minister’s announcement, restaurant reservation app OpenTable had reported a 31% UK-wide drop in bookings compared to the same period in 2019.

Gavin Webb has run a successful music-based promotion and events company in Essex for almost two decades.

The events division of Catman Boogie Music & Entertainments is the biggest part of the company. It puts on private music festivals as well as events for schools and colleges.

But its schedule for the next two months has been emptied due to cancellations in response to the pandemic.

He told the BBC: “In the last week we have had our entire turnover from now until mid-May completely cancelled.”

Mr Webb says the significant drop in income has had a devastating impact on the rest of his business.

“As a result we have had to lay some of our workforce off this week,” he said.

“This morning we have also had to give our landlord notice to withdraw from our recording studio complex which helps local artists with recording and media services.”

He added: “I’m not sure we’ll survive.”

Founder of Exhale Pilates, Gaby Noble, said she was trying to remain positive in the face of the pandemic.

She said: “Being a small business there is always a vulnerability,” but added that the coronavirus had spurred her to provide online lessons sooner rather than later.

Image copyright Lora Jones – News Analysis

“It was a matter of time until I was going to offer this service, I just didn’t think it would be made under these circumstances.”

In her studio where she trains some celebrities, there is additional deep cleaning going on.

Overall, she’s trying to maintain a sense of normality, as many other firms will in the face of uncertainty.

“I have wanted to maintain as much calmness as possible to keep the morale high for my self-employed teachers who are uncertain whether they will have enough money to pay their rent if and when the studio might have to close.”

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