Lifting lockdown can’t come soon enough for many across the country. While the tragic cost of the pandemic in terms of lives lost has frequently been foregrounded, the cost of the ongoing restrictions has been harder to quantify and often overlooked.
Business owners, mental health and education experts, families, sport coaches and care home managers are now pleading with the Prime Minister to recognise this toll and allow safe reopening as soon as possible.
Here are some of their responses and experiences:
Michael Caines, chef/patron of Lympstone Manor, Devon
I don’t think it’s extreme, nor is it scaremongering, to say that the hospitality industry is teetering on the edge.
My flagship is Lympstone Manor, a contemporary hotel within an historic country manor house in East Devon, with a vineyard and Michelin-starred restaurant. I’m all set to open another, in Exmouth, which is ready to go. I’m just waiting for the nod from the Government. So much depends on what measures the Prime Minister unveils in his roadmap on Monday.
The brutal truth is that businesses such as mine will not survive an extended lockdown. I hope soon to be able to reopen my hotels and restaurants, in a timely manner, ready for the Easter holidays. Easter is crucial, as well as trade into the summer and beyond. But I fear that we are being hit by so many different directions.
There’s a lack of overseas flights into the UK, which normally produce the tourist and business clients that fuel city centre hotels and restaurants. Right now, the events sector is nonexistent. Our supply chains have also been decimated. Every week, we’re writing off food stock. Meanwhile, we’re all running on cash reserves.
When we’ve been open, we’ve been really busy. But we cannot escape the reality that, over the past 12 months, many businesses have only traded for six of them, at a reduced capacity due to social distancing and enforced curfews. Meanwhile, many have taken on significant loans to stay afloat, loans that will ultimately need to be paid back.
There have been some positives, such as the cut on VAT. But right now, 85 per cent of my staff are on furlough, and face the prospect that they might not have a business to go back to work for. All the while that our doors are closed, we are haemorrhaging cash.
If other countries open up and British people start going abroad while the domestic market is still closed, that’ll be a loss that won’t easily be replaced.
Where before this lockdown there was optimism, now increasingly I see despair. It has been very frustrating not to have had a roadmap to be able to plan a way out of this crisis and, most importantly, support our sector over the coming years as it seeks to balance its books while the entire economy is itself on a tightrope.
Sarah Lloyd, 40, mother-of-two from in Farnborough, Hampshire
I have hit absolute burnout. My husband works full-time from home and I run my own business, Indigo Soul PR, while we simultaneously try to homeschool our two daughters, aged seven and five.
It has affected all four of us badly. My two girls are just so pent up and angry all the time, and at one point were even refusing to go out for a walk because they were so upset. They usually get on so well, but at the moment it’s constant tantrums and fights because they just feel so pent up. I really worry about the long-term impact on their mental health.
It’s so tough for us trying to teach them, too. We each do three hours a day of schooling around work. I have my own business so it’s nearly impossible. I’ve been up at four in the morning answering emails and staying up late trying to talk to clients in the US, too.
My business took a huge hit in the first pandemic and I lost a couple of big clients. I was just picking it back up again at the end of the year and finally getting back on my feet when the third lockdown came and schools were closed. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I am close to breaking point and I’ve never cried this much in my life.
It felt so unnecessary and cruel when they shut the schools in January. It’s not just education, my children are missing out on so much crucial social time, and placing an untold strain on my husband and me.
Last weekend was really rock bottom: I was just so exhausted that I couldn’t get out of bed. The sooner that this lockdown opens and schools reopen, the better.
Sarah Gillow, owner, Galio jewellers, George Street, St Albans
Sarah Gillow opened her high street jeweller in the midst of a recession in 1992. Neither that nor the ups and downs of the intervening years could have prepared her for the brutality of lockdowns, however.
“It’s hit us really hard,” she said, having had to cut staff and watch her sales slide over the latest year.
The business has started to do Zoom consultations, but nothing quite makes up for the in-person touch when it comes to selling jewellery.
Business was good between June and November, but lockdown number three came as a major blow. “I never dreamt in a million years that the Government was going to shut us down just before Christmas,” she said.
“I had bought stock, timed it really well – then I had about two weeks to sell it. So I am stuck with quite a lot of stock.”
Mrs Gillow, who runs the shop with her husband, David, said hers and other shops did and can open safely, and should be allowed to do so.
“We spent a fortune making both of our shops safe before June,” she said. “Then we are forced to shut but there are supermarkets who sell jewellery who have been allowed to stay open.
“I think the Government would have been better placed to employ people to certify shops to say ‘you can open safely’.
“I think we should be open now, as soon as possible, as long as shops can do it safely, and we can.”
Coping with the constant changes and shut-downs has been hard, she adds. “You go through phases. As a business we tend to try and be as upbeat as we can.
“My husband and I have taken it in turns to be sad and managed to buoy each other up.”
Fiona McIntosh, co-founder of hair and beauty services app blow LTD
The hair and beauty sector has been left completely in the dark about a reopening date. Every day we read about tentative reopening dates for non-essential shops and hospitality (particularly pubs, it’s always about pubs) but not a word about hair and beauty services.
Our industry is once again being ignored, or worse, dismissed as unimportant. Could this perhaps have something to do with the fact that the majority of the employees in the hair and beauty services sector are women? More pertinently, predominantly working class women without a strong voice?
It’s not just a female-dominated industry that is being discriminated against, it’s our customers too.
We have 80,000 female customers who are crying out for hair colour, a cut, a pedicure, a leg wax, in fact anything that will lift their mood in these grim times.
These are women who have borne the brunt of home-schooling young children while managing non-stop zoom conference calls.
These women have been overwhelmed with domestic chores and isolated from their friends and wider family. When they look in the mirror, they see this stress and drudgery staring back at them.
I’m not advocating that hair and beauty businesses should have stayed open in lockdown 2 – the UK’s second wave of Covid-19 infections was deep and dangerous and required radical action.
But what I am advocating is that hair and beauty services are allowed to return in the first wave of re-openings. This wouldn’t be an arbitrary decision, it would be a decision backed by science.
As someone who works in the industry, I can also explain why this risk is so minimal. The health and beauty industry has always been obsessed with hygiene. During the pandemic, these hygiene standards have been raised even higher, to clinical-grade levels.
The use of masks, gloves, sanitisers, shields, disinfectant and social distancing in the industry has made it one of the safest in the country. We care deeply about the health of our customers and the health of our professionals. When we send hair stylists and beauty therapists into people’s homes, we go over and above the hygiene standards stipulated by the Government.
Our teams need to start working again in the careers they love and our customers need the chance to look and feel their very best again.
So come on Boris, give us a break.
Robert Forrester, chief executive of Vertu Motors, car dealership, UK’s fifth largest motor retailer by turnover
Vertu Motors has evolved during the pandemic, switching to click-and-collect and video consultations, while still providing service and repair.
From losing £10 million per month during the first lockdown, the business is now selling about 2,800 cars a week and in December managed to buy new dealerships.
However, selling cars without having showrooms open is not an easy task, and the pandemic has taken its toll on the business and its staff.
“I am very worried about mental health,” said Mr Forrester. “Families are struggling. People are reacting in different ways, not necessarily well.
“People struggle at the best of times, but locking them up for long periods – especially if you have divorces going on or rebellious teenagers – is very difficult.
“So I am concerned and I have been from day one about the medium- to long-term effects of this on people.
“I don’t think we have fully appreciated what we have done. We have done something that could be far worse than what we are trying to avoid.”
Gallery: 20 life lessons we learned from the COVID crisis (Espresso)
Mr Forrester has tried to help staff who are on furlough with regular contact, advice and helping them volunteer. But showrooms need to be allowed to re-open, he argued.
March, he notes, is a critical month for vehicle sales as it is when number plates change. “If it doesn’t happen, the UK volume of cars is low and that has a massive impact on factories and on GDP in turn.
“If they don’t open dealerships by April, I think that will have a big impact on GDP for the quarter. Also, in trying to cut carbon emissions and pollution, missing the biggest month of the year for car sales is a silly thing to do.
“If you look at urban air pollution, taking a more polluting model out of circulation is a good idea.”
He would be “very happy” if the Government announces non-essential retail will re-open on Mar 8, he said.
“Then we would need a rock solid commitment that we are not ever going down on this road again.”
Mental health practitioner Joe Gaunt, 39, from Leeds
I run a health and wellbeing company, Hero, so I’ve really seen the impact that the pandemic is having on the nation’s minds.
At the start of the lockdown, the main thing we were dealing with was back and neck pain from people working at their kitchen tables. But over the past few months, it has flipped to being so much more about mental health support.
People are at the end of their tethers. For so many, working from home ends up meaning longer hours, without even anything fun at the end of it to cheer them up. It’s constant work, with no joy, which leaves so many people wondering what the point of it all is.
The uncertainty from the Government on what’s coming next is also proving tough. People can’t even book a holiday or plan dinner with friends, which would offer a bit of hope that they could cling to.
There’s an old saying that sums it all up: the certainty of misery is better than the misery of uncertainty. Feeling like you have control over your life is so important for your health.
The Government isn’t properly accounting for the full cost of this lockdown. We hear the daily stats on the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, but nothing on the number of people who are experiencing a mental health problem. Obviously, we should protect the vulnerable, but we need to think about all the other concerns in society, too.
I recommend to clients a few things they can do to help themselves a little bit. Set limits on your screen time so you’re not getting exhausted all the time, and make sure you’re getting outside for that walk. Just 15 minutes in the park will help a lot.
It’s bad for children’s mental health, too. I see it in my seven-year-old daughter: her eyes are bloodshot from all the Zoom calls, and she’s so sick of it. This just can’t go on much longer.
Sean Hughes, owner of Dylans, The Boot, and The Plough pubs in St Albans
Having managed to keep his pubs afloat all year, being forced to shut just before Christmas was a blow for landlord Sean Hughes.
“We had bought a lot of stock to prepare for Christmas,” he recalls. “Had we just been told earlier, you can’t open for Christmas, then we would have been organised.
“One of our pubs was doing a winter garden – we had to refund £30,000 of deposits.”
The pandemic has been “financially crippling”, he said, with the business having burned through about £200,000 to cope with rolling restrictions.
And for a trade normally associated with chatter, socialising and fun nights out, it has also been extremely tough in other ways.
“We have been trying to get other publicans to talk about how they are feeling,” he said. “Even at the end of the night there is normally a buzz; now it’s a vacant, depressing place.
“Especially for those who live above their pub, going down into empty deserted space, it feels almost like a failure.
“It’s bizarre, it’s not your doing, but I think it has a big impact on my and others’ mental health.”
It costs about £10,000 to re-open his pubs after lockdowns, and Mr Hughes said the next re-opening must be permanent.
“They should give it four to six weeks after schools re-open to see what happens, before we then open up hospitality and blame them again [if infections go up].
“We can open safely; I think we proved that last summer. We have to open up the economy.”
Richard Darwin, chief executive, The Gym Group
The Gym Group was expanding rapidly heading into lockdown, having opened 20 sites during 2019.
Its 24/7, no-contract gyms are a hit among time-pressed workers and students, and it has 184 sites around the country.
But all that slowed down as the pandemic hit, and, if they remain closed through March, its gyms will have been shut for eight months out of 12.
“That will have been eight months where we have effectively had no revenue,” said chief executive Richard Darwin.
“Very early on we realised we couldn’t charge our members while our gyms were closed. So it has had a significant impact on business.”
Staff have been furloughed while The Gym Group has also raised new equity and debt to help it see through.
Mr Darwin said during breaks between lockdowns, gyms opened safely with social distancing and strict cleaning protocols.
They should be allowed to do so again as soon as possible, he argued.
“Clearly schools are going to be first, and I think that’s absolutely right, but we would like to be next in line.
“The case is two-fold: the benefits of physical activity in terms of mental wellbeing and physical health overall are very clear.
“In a survey, 86 per cent of our members said there was an impact [of lockdown] on their wellbeing and 91 per cent said their fitness was impacted.
“And second, when we were open, we managed to demonstrate we could operate very safely.”
Extending relief on business rates, as well as VAT cuts, would also help the industry get back on its feet.
“The industry needs some visibility about when it can reopen and what additional support is going to come,” said Mr Darwin.
Prof Lee Elliot Major, professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter
Never has a school classroom filled with pupils been so badly needed. This cruel pandemic has already taken far too many lives. But we can’t let it scar a whole generation. The losses to learning and wellbeing are mounting with every extra school day missed. Our children have suffered enough.
In these dark times, all our hearts would be lightened by that instantly recognisable sound of chattering young voices echoing from full playgrounds again. This may not be the end of our troubles, not even the beginning of the end. But as the Prime Minister’s hero, Winston Churchill, once said, it will signal, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Churchillian rhetoric is overused. But these words, delivered after the first victorious battle during World War Two, are completely apt. We are facing the biggest education crisis in 100 years. This is a fight for our future.
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated stark divides between education’s haves and have-nots. Our research shows that private school pupils were twice as likely than state school pupils to benefit from full days of online lessons during school closures in the first lockdown. A quarter of pupils received no education at all.
Even before this current lockdown, we estimated some pupils had lost half a year’s learning. Some children just don’t have the quiet study space, computers and support that others enjoy, let alone the luxury of private tutors. We estimate a sharp decline in future social mobility levels.
School, of course, is far more than just about academic progress; it’s about socialising with your friends and classmates, sharing those formative life experiences. Our surveys reveal rising levels of anxiety among young people who feel increasingly isolated.
The urgent priority must be the reopening of schools for all pupils. Nothing in education is more important or impactful than a highly effective teacher in front of an engaged class of pupils.
During America’s Great Depression, that other great war leader, Franklin D Roosevelt, inspired huge multi-year national efforts to level-up society.
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much,” said the then-president in 1937. “It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
As we begin our road to recovery from this awful pandemic, getting schools back open as soon as possible is the test that we can’t afford to fail.
Donna Pierpoint, registered manager of Sheffield’s only charity care home for the elderly, The Broomgrove Trust
What a lot of people forget – especially younger generations – is that during the Second World War, thousands of children were evacuated to the countryside to keep them safe. They were shipped off with their little backpacks and onto trains.
They were torn away from their parents, whom they may never have seen again, and were forced to live with strangers.
And this is how we repay them. Again, they’re being torn away from their families and from the life they’ve had after surviving the war. We’re just tearing them away again. It’s just inhumane. It’s sickening.
Before they come into a care home, many residents may have been looked after by their husband, wife, son or daughter. Often, as a result, the relationship dynamic transforms into patient and carer. So part of our role in providing care is giving them that relationship back. We’re repairing relationships.
We should be promoting that relationship, keep it going and do everything in our power to keep it going. But by stopping visits, we’re damaging that relationship. The Government needs to stop referring to essential family carers as ‘visitors’ because they’re not. A visitor might be a friend who was a next door but one neighbour and is coming to say hello: that’s a visitor, not a relative
One resident said to me, ‘Thank you, Donna, I’ve got my husband back’, because we mended that relationship, and transformed it back into husband and wife after it had turned patient and carer. My gosh it was hard work, some of the things he had to do for his wife, and not something that you do for your partner, you know, it’s too personal
The impact that a lack of visiting can have on mental health is astonishing. People deteriorate without contact from loved ones. They lose interest in things, stop talking, moving and sit with their heads down. That’s what we’re doing to this generation.
A lot of impactful contact can happen thanks to all this wonderful technology, but offering a Zoom or Skype call to someone with dementia means nothing to them. It’s about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
Carers who provide close-contact care are far more at risk than visiting relatives. And seeing your loved one through a plastic screen or glass window is basically like seeing them in prison. Residents say it makes them feel like they’re lepers.
We’re doing everything we can at our care home to keep visits from relatives going. Seeing the happiness, the sparkle in their eyes and the smile on their faces moves me to tears. It’s overwhelming, and doesn’t cost a penny.
Brian Flynn, 49, director of youth development, Faversham Town
It is hugely important to get kids back playing outdoor sports, for their own mental wellbeing, as well as their own physical well-being.
It feels like a lifetime ago we were all last together. Not being able to train, as well as not being able to play, has caused enormous hardship for the children.
Every single boy I know at the club is absolutely desperate to get back together, with a football, on a pitch, and train and play. I’ve had parents telling me their kids are going stir crazy.
Some struggle more than others because, for some boys, their football team is everything.
This is an escape from what’s going on at home. This is a place where they’re safe, where they have other role models and it’s absolutely vital for the development of these children.
Every week, it’s a chance for them to release energy and, for the time they’re on a pitch, nothing else matters. They forget everything.
It’s far better for them to be doing sport in a controlled environment, like a football club, rather than in less controlled environments where they might be gathering without the hygiene controls in place.
We’ve had to work really hard as coaches to do everything we can to keep something going. We’ve got a group chat online that all the players are in with the coaches and we’re setting them daily tasks and trying to keep them together because, away from the football, that part of the club identity, of being part of something special, is really important to these kids.
One of the challenges we did was to invent a goal celebration. We paired them up and they had to invent one for their partner to perform when we’re back playing football.
Kids football effectively pays for itself through subs for the kids. What we don’t know when we come back is how many of those families’ situations will have changed and how many might be struggling to afford the subs.
It’s only a few quid a week but if you’ve got three kids, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on money.
As told to: Rachel Millard, Camilla Turner, Gabriella Swerling, Ben Rumsby, Helen Chandler-Wilde, Jade Conroy and Paul Clements