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Local businesswoman urges companies to seek post-Covid19 support

17 July 2020

A buzz of activity has been returning to our town centres over the past few days as businesses across Derry and Strabane have been opening the shutters and welcoming customers through their doors for the first time in four months.

It may be a while before normal service as we know it is possible, but there's a palpable sense of relief across the business community as some level of trading resumes. For some it's been an opportunity to enjoy a slower pace and a chance to review working practices. But for many it's been an anxious time, particularly for small businesses and the self-employed, many of whom have had to furlough or seek additional support.

One local business woman who is now looking forward to a fresh start is holistic therapist Siobhan Quinn, who like many had to immediately close the doors of her business, Sole Revival Therapies, when lockdown began in March. The health and beauty industry has been one of the hardest hit, and one of the last to be allowed to open as guidelines are relaxed.

Just a year after setting out on her own with her business venture, the Newtownstewart woman found herself suddenly without an income, and feeling like she had nowhere to turn for help, as she recalls.

"I became self-employed in February last year which is really terrible timing when you think about it with everything that's happened in the past few months.

"I had been practicing holistic therapy as a hobby for a number of years. I initially started my training in 2009 and I had always thought of it as my retirement plan. In the ten years since then I had been adding new treatments to my portfolio and training whenever I could. It just so happened that I had the opportunity to leave my job early, and it was then that I decided this was my opportunity to go out on my own.

"By last year I had established a solid foundation for my business, offering not just reflexology but a whole range of treatments for my customers. And just as I had gotten everything off the ground we were hit with Covid-19, which has had a major impact on the health and beauty industry in particular.

"I went literally from having my own business to having absolutely no income at all. It was a very frightening time. I found that I wasn't eligible for any of the HMRC grant schemes. I've never experienced anything like it before - everything was just put on hold. It was awful having to cancel appointments and tell customers I would be closing with no idea when I would be able to resume business again."

Siobhan decided to get in touch with Derry City and Strabane District Council to see if they could offer any help, and was immediately signed up to the Business Boost Programme which offered a range of services and information to help local businesses impacted by Covid-19.

"I have to say it was an absolute lifeline to me at a time when I didn't really know where to turn," she recalls.

"I threw myself into their online courses and I was able to use the extra time to enhance my own training and experience. I could see a way out of the situation I was in and I was able to connect with other business people in the same boat as me – everybody has different stories from the pandemic but many of us have shared this experience of having to build back up and take a new approach to business.

"The programme connects you with business mentors who can share their expertise. It gave me a totally new perspective and encouraged me to prepare for the return to work, which thankfully I'm now in the process of doing. It helped me to plan ahead for the new reality we find ourselves in and prepared me mentally and emotionally for the future."

While it's been a challenging few months, Siobhan is now looking forward to relaunching Sole Revival with even more to offer her clients.

"I'm moving into a new treatment room which is very exciting as it really will be a new start for me. I had been in a shared space but in the next two weeks I will be moving to my own room with extra opening hours and additional treatments now available.

"I've had to make changes of course - I follow the strict guidelines set out by the Professional Association of Reflexologists. It has meant more investment in additional protective equipment for myself and my clients such as shields, masks and cleaning products but this will be the reality for many local businesses for a long time.

"I'm already seeing a return from many of my regular clients and I have to say I'm so looking forward to returning to work, especially at a time when I think a lot of people will benefit from holistic therapies."

Council is currently offering small businesses in the wider Strabane area post-Covid19 support through its Business Reboot Programme in conjunction with Strabane BID. The programme is free and is open to companies with less than 50 employees, as Council's Business Support Manager Louise Breslin explains.

"We are very conscious that many businesses are uncertain of the way forward after Coronavirus and may benefit from some additional support and reassurance at this time. The Business Reboot Programme will help businesses as they consider what changes they need to make to adhere to new safety guidelines and to support any staff and customers who may have concerns.

"I would encourage any business owner who needs information to get in touch with Council to see how we can help."

To be considered for a place on the Business Reboot Programme contact Patrick at Full Circle – [email protected] – or call 028 90691027.

Deadline for all expressions of interest in relation to this Programme is Friday 24th July at 1pm – anyone interested should make contact as soon as possible with expectation of high demand.