Campaign to revive local economy as businesses struggle

Delroy Dixon, who owns Rhythm Kitchen, a Caribbean restaurant in Walthamstow
Delroy Dixon, who owns Rhythm Kitchen, a Caribbean restaurant in Walthamstow, is one of nine businesses involved with the council’s ‘Choose Local, Support Everyone’ campaign

Business owners explain how pandemic has impacted them, reports James Cracknell

Pubs, bars and restaurants in Waltham Forest are seeing mixed fortunes since re-opening after the Covid-19 lockdown – as the council launches a campaign to revive the local economy.

Most of the hospitality sector was given the go-ahead to open last month following a three-month shutdown, but with social distancing measures forcing them to operate at reduced capacity. But restaurants in particular appear to be struggling. Two local business owners told the Echo their trade is less than half of what it used to be before the pandemic.

Antonio Criscione runs pizza restaurant Trattoria Ibleo, opposite Chingford Station. “Business is not good,” he said. “People are too scared to go out now. We are not making enough money to pay the rent. We have got some regulars coming in but it is not enough.”

Antonio estimates that trade is down by up to 60% compared to the start of the year. “We have increased our deliveries and take-aways, but once you pay [delivery company] Deliveroo, you are not making much money from it.”

Various types of financial support have been made available to businesses, such as rate relief, small grants administered by local authorities, new ‘bounce back’ loans, as well as the furlough scheme to help pay staff wages. But Antonio said: “Things like the bounce back loan will keep us going for 12 months, after that we don’t know.”

It’s a similar story for Dhaka Tandoori in Hoe Street, Walthamstow, which won East London Restaurant of the Year at the London Curry Awards 2019. Manager Syed Monsur told the Echo: “It’s been very slow. We’ve been doing take-away since May but since we opened the restaurant for dining in, trade is down more than half. We are trying to advertise and put leaflets out but if dine-in doesn’t improve, we don’t know how long we can survive.

“On Saturdays normally we would be fully booked but we have had as few as four customers in one night. We hope it will pick up in September.”

Pubs appear to be faring better. Two Waltham Forest watering holes gave an upbeat assessment of their business since re-opening in July. James Dawkins, assistant manager at The Coach and Horses in Leyton High Road, said: “It’s been pretty good. We had a lot of people who missed the place and were eager to come back.

“We have got a reduced menu but we are going to expand it soon. We’ve also brought back the pub quiz and hopefully we can bring back live music soon as well.”

Sin Airey, a supervisor at The Chequers in Walthamstow High Street, added: “We are getting back to normal. People are coming back and it’s getting better.”

There is less optimism at Luna Lounge in Church Lane, Leytonstone, a music venue that previously won three ‘Love London’ awards from Time Out. With live performances not possible for the time being, Luna is still opening for various themed nights using recorded music. Owner Suja Khaled told the Echo: “It’s not working at the moment. On Saturday we had ten people when normally we would have up to 100.

“We are not in financial difficulty yet but I want to get things back to normal and continue to bring joy to people through live music, like we’ve been doing for 16 years.”

To help revive the borough’s economy, Waltham Forest Council has launched a campaign to raise people’s confidence to shop locally. The ‘Choose Local, Support Everyone’ campaign is led by nine local business-owners and shops.

The campaign emphasises how local businesses are not just sellers of goods and services but employers of local communities. Waltham Forest has a high number of small firms, with 94% of businesses employing fewer than ten people, and a recent Social Market Foundation study suggested the borough could be among the ten hardest hit areas economically in England.

Simon Miller, the council’s cabinet member for economic growth, said: “This campaign is one of the many ways we’re supporting local businesses and boosting our high streets. The way the community has come together to help one another over the past few months has been incredible, and it’s on this backdrop that we are empowering local businesses to tell their stories and showcasing how local businesses aren’t just vital to our local economy but are bedrocks of the community.”

For more information on the ‘Choose Local, Support Everyone’ campaign: