The Surrey town being devastated by the slowdown in flights at Gatwick

The Surrey town being devastated by the slowdown in flights at Gatwick

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All is quiet at Cumberland House.

In the Surrey town which borders the world’s busiest single-runway airport, coronavirus has hit hard.

Thousands of livelihoods in Horley depend on Gatwick, still running at a fraction of pre-Covid levels. Carmel and Clive Gouger have run their busy Brighton Road B&B, Cumberland House, for 15 years.

“There were always guests coming in and out all the time, all sorts of enquiries going on, the telephone ringing all the time,” said Mrs Gouger.

“Now there is nothing; it’s just a shell now, just an empty house. The breakfast room is empty in the morning, there is nothing.”

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Cancellations for their nine bedrooms began in January as Covid-19 spread in other parts of the world. The enterprising duo began a cooked breakfast delivery service during lockdown which proved popular, but have had to let three staff go and expect to make a fraction of the £180,000 they turn over in a normal year.

They have had over 600 cancellations since the start of the pandemic, and just 46 reservations.

“It has been a nightmare,” said Mrs Gouger. “Everything is stacked in the wrong direction. I can’t see it improving until there is a vaccine and it remains to be seen who will survive the whole thing financially.”

People across the town were feeling the impact, she said. More than 30,000 people worked for or at Gatwick Airport before Covid hit, and many more people in jobs inextricably linked to it.

The bedrooms at Cumberland House are all made up but with virtually no guests to use them

More than 70 per cent of the people employed by Gatwick Airport Limited remain on furlough leave. Almost 800 jobs have already gone, with another 600 expected to follow – a reduction in the workforce of more than 40 per cent.

Virgin Atlantic announced it was quitting Gatwick in May. Long-haul British Airways flights returned in July, but BA expects to continue using Heathrow for most short-haul flights until at least March.

Last week easyJet, the airport’s biggest customer, denied claims by a union official, reported in The Guardian, that the company was “hanging by a thread”.

The airport’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, is among critics of the government’s quarantine system and has called for a passenger testing regime.

It is thought 2,400 Horley residents – more than 10 per cent of the town’s population – worked at Gatwick pre-Covid.

Uncertainty now reigns, said chairman of the Horley and District Chamber of Commerce, Michael Humphrey.

“Horley as a whole, for the businesses there is that six degrees of separation to the airport. Either they have, or have clients who are linked to it somewhere down the chain. So we are quite closely impacted.

“The furlough scheme has helped and there are a lot more people working from home and there is a lot of demand for office space in Horley at the moment which is something we are working with the council to work out.”

He said there is a “very close-knit community with Horley and the airport”, adding: “We have got quite a lot of B&Bs, small hotels, car parking. I run a car parking business and I haven’t had a car parked there for six months.”

There is positivity however, he said, and people and businesses had come together to support each other.

“We are sharing, we are doing well at adapting and a lot are doing well at surviving.

“The silver lining within the awfulness of the entire pandemic is that the community has thrived and the community is, in my opinion, stronger than it has been for a long time.”



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