Businesses in Merseyside’s worst hit borough left fearing for their future

Businesses in Merseyside’s worst hit borough left fearing for their future

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A number of businesses in Merseyside’s worst hit borough for coronavirus cases have said they’re “worried” and fear for the future after further restrictions were placed on the region.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Liverpool City Region would be placed under tough new measures to help stem the rising coronavirus cases.

Mr Johnson outlined a new three-tier system of local lockdown measures for England, seeing the region placed in the “very high” category or “Tier Three.”

On Wednesday, the following establishments closed meaning members of the public can now not visit pubs, bars, gyms, betting shops, casinos and adult gaming centres in the Liverpool City Region.

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Liverpool City Region was already under strict local lockdown restrictions, banning people from socialising with other households and with 10pm curfews placed on hospitality venues.

According to recent figures, Knowsley has the second-highest rate of coronavirus in England, climbing from 485.9 to 669.5, with 1,010 new cases, and Liverpool is in third place, where the rate has increased from 504.4 to 598.5, with 2,981 new cases.

With new restrictions in force, we spoke to a number of business owners affected in Knowsley to hear their thoughts.

“I don’t know how it’s going to pan out over the next few months”

Located on High Street, Prescot, The Bard is a Shakespeare inspired micropub which sells real ales, craft beers, ciders and gins all from around the Merseyside region.

John Marsden, who runs the Bard and Melwood Brewery, said the business, which opened in 2018, decided to close its doors on Saturday until new restrictions imposed on pubs were confirmed.

He said staff are “confused” and “worried” for their jobs and described the announcement as a “hammer blow” to the business and others in the same position.

John told the ECHO: “It was something we kind of knew was coming and they dropped information about plans in the week prior of it being Liverpool to the press.

“We knew the pubs were going to shut, we knew the restrictions they brought in of the 10pm finish was only the start of it.

“That caused enough problems for us and we toe’d the line and made sure everyone who came in toe’d the line as well.

“It’s been ill through through by the government and I don’t see how a pub differs from a restaurant in stopping the spread of the virus.

“We’ve did everything that’s been asked of us. It’s been a hammer blow.”

Inside the Bard Micropub on High Street, Prescot.

Alongside his wife Julie, the couple also run their own beer company in the old kennels that once housed Lord Derby’s gun dogs and have become well-established in the Merseyside.

John said he was also concerned for other businesses, brewers and professions that work close with the sectors affected.

He said: “At the minute we’re being told it will be reviewed in four weeks.

“If it gets to two months we’ll find ourselves closed for Christmas where we get most of our takings and then it gets to January which is quite quiet.

“It’s devastating for us. We’ve worked really hard and we’re getting up to three years now and we’ve worked our socks off.

“We shut for five months and then all of a sudden we have to close now, no questions or arguments, you’ve got to get on with it.

“If it goes on for two months or 10 weeks there’s a fear we’d have to close our doors and not open again.”

As brewing company, John said he’ll now struggle to sell to other businesses across the region and that their orders are already down by around 20% elsewhere.

John Marsden at his Melwood Beer Company based in the Knowsley Park estate.

John said: “It’s really worrying and I don’t know how its going to pan out over the next few months.

“There’s going to be a lot of brewers that are going to go under in the next few months. I can’t even sell my own beer to my own bar because my bar is shut.”

John also said support from loyal customers will continue as it has throughout the pandemic and with the winter season ahead said that he would encourage people to shop local “all year round.”

He said: “I think people should shop more local and support more local independents.

“I’m all for supporting locals, I’ve got two local businesses. We support as many others as we can and they support us.”

“The kids were made up to be back in the gym”

The Training Station gym is a non-profit organisation based in Kirkby and was set up to provide a space to exercise and participate in classes for both children and their parents in the community.

Offering Muay Thai, boxing, personal training and more, owner Liam Rice said after closing earlier this year due to lockdown, members were “made up” to be back.

But while money is an important factor businesses are predominately worried about regarding the closures, Liam said he is also concerned about the long-term affects this will have on the next generation.

He said: “The kids were made up to be back in the gym, but if they go to school and someone gets covid they have to isolate and their parents have to isolate.

“We’ve seen classes full with 20 plus people go to six people.

“It’s challenging for parents to get them to out, get them to school but them not being able to do their Thai boxing that gives them that exercise.

The Training Station in Kirkby

“In my opinion kids were more active 10 years ago playing in the streets. The iPads are not the answer.

“It’s getting the kids into a routine. There’s not much to do in Kirkby for young people.

“We do our best. All of us work 40 hours plus a week to make it better for the community like other groups have just to have it taken away. It’s not a nice feeling.”

Liam said the fitness sector is important for people’s mental and physical health, as well as their social skills and that he sees children’s confidence and ability grow every day at the Training Station.

He said he would like more clarification on the restrictions for different activities and age groups.

Liam said: “The fitness sector has a lot of things that can help you in later life. They have skills that can help you as an adult and when you start work.

Inside the Training Station in Kirkby

“We’re in another lockdown for a period of time now. If we reopen you can’t expect the landlords to give us rent for free and the bills for free and say you can use the lights free of charge.

“We could be back in six months, it could be longer or we could never open again.

“Someone who is 17 years, 11 months and 30 days can train but but someone who is 18 can’t. I don’t understand the difference. We need more clarification.”

Liam said gyms are one of the “cleanest places to be in” and that he “can’t fault the support” members and the community have given them throughout the pandemic.

He said: “I’m in the same situation as everyone else is, it’s just getting through it. I just feel sorry for those who won’t get through it.”

“It’s a lifeline for people”

St Aloysius Social Club has welcomed generation after generation of loyal Huyton customers for decades.

Club Secretary Dan Oakes said the business shut its doors earlier this month and that it’s been hard as people “come to a social club to socialise and now you can’t socialise.”

Dan said: “We actually shut our doors on October 3 as the restrictions came into place on the Friday that you could’t sit with anyone outside your household.

“People sit in these groups every day and work with them every day, they just don’t live in the same household. Most of them are family they just don’t all live together in the same house.

“We’ve been existence for around 60 years. People have been coming to this club since 1962 when it opened.

“We have a lot of elderly customers living on their own and they’re coming out and not being able to sit with people they’ve known since they were 17 years of age. We didn’t feel that was fair.”

The main hall and function suite in St Aloysius Social Club, Huyton, back in March 2020 before lockdown

Dan described social clubs like St Aloysius as “a lifeline for people” as it’s the only place were many residents come once or twice a week outside of their households.

He said a big concern is that there won’t be any social clubs for people to come back to and that over the last few months the club has missed out on hosting parties and weddings, as well as funerals of their own customers.

Dan said: “I just feel sorry for younger people who are at school now because the club won’t be there for them.

“If we get through the next few months it will be, but will we be there, I don’t know.”

Dan said each new restriction announced only left a number of days in between a new one being introduced and that despite bringing in and abiding by new measures, businesses haven’t been able to see what measures have worked so far.

Inside St Aloysius Social Club, Huyton

He said he is concerned about the knock on effect new closures will have on other industries, charities and more and called up local leaders and MP’s to fight for local businesses in the borough and across the region.

Dan said: “Hospitality are the most thought out, health conscious, sanitised places you can be in.

“We’ve done everything we can do to stop people singing, sitting together, dancing.

“It’s uncertain the situation. As a committee we got together and it was a pretty easy decision for us all.

“The staff are uncertain about their jobs. But if you’re going to pay 67% or two thirds in effect everything will have to be two thirds of the price.

“If people says it’s just the pub they don’t have a clue about Liverpool or the North. It’s the meeting place after work or somewhere to see your parents or grandparents at the weeks . It’s going to desecrate the area.”

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Dan said the social club have since made calls to members across the community to see how they are following its closure and that for businesses affected to recover, they need the right support from the government.

He said: “Our customers at St Aloysius Social Club are an absolute credit. They have supported us 100%.

“There’s local groups of people in the area that would be lost if there’s no social clubs.

“There’s not many left in the area. There’s only three or four I can think of and that’s just within Huyton.

“They won’t continue without the proper support.”

“It’s a place for them to getaway from what’s happening in the real world”

David Lloyd Leisure has two clubs in Knowsley and Speke and has a state-of-the-art gym, tennis courts, swimming pools, children’s activities and more.

Regional manager for the North West, Russell Ormerod said that the business, staff and members are in “disbelief” at the new restrictions, which makes them unable to exercise and spend quality time with family at the venue.

He said: “I think it’s devastating for the local community. We’ve got 6,000 members in our club in Knowsley and I don’t think a lot of them can understand why this has happened and devastating is the word they’re using.

“We’re a safe haven for them in a way to be able to come in to us, exercise and spend time with their family which a lot of members do.

“It’s a place for them to getaway from what’s happening in the real world.

“I think for staff and members its a bit of disbelief.”

Russell said the impact on the local community will be on members mental health, inability to use the facilities and having to exercise in the “colder and wetter” winter months.

He said within their clubs the Knowsley members are extremely friendly and community focused and that he hopes this will continue going forward.

Inside David Lloyd Leisure in Knowsley

Following the UK Government’s announcement regarding Tier 3 measures, Glenn Earlam, CEO of David Lloyd Leisure yesterday commented on Liverpool City Council’s decision to close gyms and leisure centres.

He said: “We are astounded by Liverpool City Council’s decision to close gyms and leisure centres, whilst still allowing restaurants to remain open. Today the BBC reports* restaurants are one of the highest settings for Covid exposure at nearly 10%, along with shopping centres at 3.4% both of which remain open, compared with just 1.4% in gyms, so this decision defies all logic. Indeed, since our clubs reopened on 25 July we have had just eight cases from over 130,000 member visits in our two clubs in the area at Knowsley and Speke, with, most critically, not a single known in-club transmission case.

“As winter approaches, health and fitness is more important than ever. Gyms and indoor leisure facilities of course play a vital part in supporting year-round physical fitness, and exercise has proven to strengthen the immune system, protecting people from Covid-19 and illnesses generally.

“Mental health has clearly taken its toll on many people in recent months, and gyms and leisure centres play a crucial role in supporting mental wellbeing. This announcement comes just days after World Mental Health Day, which makes this decision even more baffling.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously and the safety of both our members and team is always our number one priority. We’ve been working very closely with the local EHOs to ensure the Government protocols have been strictly adhered to. Because our clubs are so spacious we’ve been able to redesign the layout to provide additional workout spaces, allowing fewer people in our gyms. We’ve introduced social distancing and rigorous cleaning processes throughout, and because all our members swipe in on entry we are able to easily provide ‘Test and Trace’ information to the local health authorities.

“These measures together far exceed Government recommendations, making our clubs and gyms safe and healthy places to visit. We call on both the Liverpool City Council and the UK Government to urgently reconsider their decision and keep our gyms and health facilities open during this time when the British public need them more than ever.”



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