Merton Chamber of Commerce has been helping businesses to stay alive during a succession of lockdowns.

Lockdown 2 has made it even more difficult for many businesses who had just kept their head above water through the spring, summer and autumn months. Throughout this entire period, pro-business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce networks have been supporting local businesses in their areas, in terms of lobbying the government for better support packages, helping them to better understand those packages and changes in relevant laws and access to finance.

Diana Sterck, Chief Executive of Merton Chamber of Commerce, has been at the forefront of these efforts from the outset. “On day one of Lockdown, I sat down with my team and we talked about how best we could help businesses during these very challenging times,” she explained.

“We knew our support needed to be online so we quickly came up with a format that we believed would work. And it has, eight months on we are still using the same format.”

Merton Chamber of Commerce initiated a series of webinars called Reach Out and Connect and have now run more than 25 of these, reaching over 400 people.

Ms Sterck continued: “We respond to what we know have been the issues and continue to be the issues: getting to grips with all the Government support available to businesses; understanding trading laws under Lockdown; moving to more digital ways of working;  making new business contacts and finance - on the basis that cash is king and many businesses face a cash flow crisis because of COVID-19.”

In addition to the specific support that Diana’s team has been able to provide, they have also been focusing on how they can contribute to the wider efforts being made to lobby the Government to make changes to their support packages, particularly where they feel they will aid businesses around the local area.

“We have worked hand in hand with other organisations who want to support business. In Merton that is the Council and at the London level we have worked very closely with the London Chamber of Commerce and other local Chambers of Commerce.”

She continued: “As a result of our collaboration we have had a stronger voice to influence Government and campaign to our local MPs on a whole range of really important issues. Examples would be financial support for the self-employed and lobbying on behalf of the many businesses that have fallen through the cracks on the support available.”

While some businesses inevitably couldn’t be saved by the gradual economic recovery after the first lockdown and fell by the wayside, many showed tremendous agility and fortitude to keep themselves afloat during these unprecedented times. A second lockdown so soon after the first is causing even greater challenges and may create much longer-term impacts for local businesses.

The Merton Chamber of Commerce continues to work on new and innovative ideas to aid and support businesses in these increasingly troubled times.

“I think the second Lockdown is very different to the first,” said Ms Sterck. “Many businesses had been able to continue to trade and that was great. For many, the second Lockdown will be devastating. For example, pubs, restaurants, gyms, leisure, spas, hairdressers, and salons were all just getting back on their feet and then – Lockdown 2.

“We continue to lobby on their behalf and are currently working with Merton Council on the roll out of their next wave of business grants, as well as offering other types of government funded support.”

Predicting the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses in the long-term is difficult. Nevertheless, Diana is hopeful that many will survive and thrive, so long as they maintain their discipline and inner strength.

She said: “None of us know what the long-term impacts on business will be. For sure, some businesses have and will continue to close. For sure, some will find new ways of working and prosper and grow. For sure, the next two years is a difficult path. I always say resilience is the name of the game and now, it is more important than ever for business leaders and all the people who work for them and with them.”