Covid 'still overshadows businesses' two years on from first lockdown

Cassie and Robbie

Owner's of Hornchurch's Best Sellers: Cassie Wootton and Robbie Wootton. - Credit: Chantelle Billson

Two years after the UK’s first lockdown, the impact of the pandemic “continues to overshadow the economic life” of Romford town centre.  

This is what Romford Business Improvement District (BID) director Julie Frost, has said as people remember the last two years on the National Day of Reflection (March 23). 

Organised by charity Marie Curie, the day marks the second anniversary of day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK's first lockdown and honours people who have lost loved ones.  

Julie said footfall has "yet to return to pre-Covid levels on a sustained basis”, with the hospitality sector continuing to see an “underperformance against 2019 figures”. 

Romford BID director Julie Frost. Picture: Complete Ltd

Romford BID director Julie Frost. Picture: Complete Ltd - Credit: Complete Ltd

“Although it is possible to identify a partial recovery within the consumer goods sector, enforced isolation during large parts of the past two years has only served to exacerbate the broader shift into online shopping,” she said.  

But some positive signs of the town’s economy “adapting and becoming more resilient as a result of the pandemic” have been seen.  

She said: “Evidence from the shopping centre management suggest that competition for vacant shop units is growing strongly.” 

Most Read

Julie believes “flexible working practices” have helped increase spend levels in Romford town, boding well for its future.  

Atik nightclub’s unit manager, Nick Jackson, said the pandemic hit the nighttime economy “really hard”, with clubs some of the first to close and last to open.  

He said during the pandemic the club's owners Deltic “ran out of cash” but were “fortunate enough to be brought out of administration by Rekom” - a successful Scandinavian business.  

“But it was the young people we serve that really took the hit socially and educationally, which definitely impacted their mental health,” Nick added.  

He believes the pandemic has served as a “reset”; since then, the club has been “busier than ever” with more than 2,000 people visiting Atik every weekend, he claimed.  

“We look forward to continuing to entertain and put on the big nights for Romford’s younger population for months and years to come,” he added.  

The owners of multi-retailer Best Sellers in Hornchurch - Robbie Wootton, 41, and Cassie Wootton, 39 - told the Recorder they worked hard to adapt their business throughout the pandemic and clocked up more hours than usual to accommodate a delivery service.  

It comes after they were forced to shut in November 2020 because Havering Council deemed it didn’t have enough essential items to qualify as an essential store. 

Since then, the siblings put a delivery plan in place, which Robbie said has kept them busy.  

In a nod to the pandemic trend to build a home bar, Robbie said Best Sellers now offers cocktail sets and has a feature bar in the shop.  

Trading has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, but Robbie noted it’s “gradually getting there” with customers choosing to shop local and support independent businesses in the high street.

Tandoori Lounge

Owners of Hornchurch's Tandoori Lounge, Honey and Sukhdeep Uppal. - Credit: Ram Ahuja

Honey Uppal, 40, who owns Tandoori Lounge in Hornchurch alongside her husband Sukhdeep Uppal, 42, said the restaurant suffered “big losses” during the first lockdown.  

The couple were forced to get rid of a lot of food they would usually donate to the less fortunate.  

In around May 2020 the restaurant opened for takeaways on Fridays and Saturdays to “allow people to have something to look forward to”, Honey said.  

This worked “really well” for the duo, but added: “It was a tough time along with all the uncertainty.”  

Opening the restaurant again with PPE in place and spaced-out tables allowed for some normality, but Honey said Covid is still impacting her business, with many people cancelling because they have the virus.  

She also said many customers want to eat earlier and are less inclined to pre-book.

Coupled with a lack of disposable cash and produce “practically tripling in price”, Honey said it is still difficult for the award-winning restaurant.

However, they are “extremely lucky to have a lot of loyal customers”, she added.