By Niall Smyth
A challenging time in so many ways Covid 19 has created something that we all thought would never happen, a once in a century occurrence that has literally stopped us all in our tracks, forced us to press the pause button on our daily lives.
Over the past three weeks we watched as the virus crept closer to this island, as someone put it like a silent tsunami. It has made us all establish new priorities. Our health and that of our families and friends has become the utmost priority. Everything else doesn’t matter, refocussing our thinking on life.
All elements of our community are now fully united in beating the virus, a fight that is being led by our frontline workers, people who are and will be our heroes in this battle. The fight is also being fought by so many good people in our community with a lot of community, sporting and other such organisations doing their bit to help the people who need it most at this time.
As a business person you never think that a lock down could or would ever happen. Over the past few weeks business after business announced that in the interest of staff, clients and the community, they were temporarily closing their doors. We are now in hibernation.
This past week has been surreal for myself. My business is very much public focussed so the amount of people you meet on a day to day basis is quite a lot. You get to know a lot of people. Now I am restricted to phone calls and emails only. It is very difficult to adjust but a necessary adjustment.
At some stage in the coming months, when the battle is won, our focus will again turn to getting back to work and to normality. The packages announced by the Chancellor have provided some relief to businesses for the time being. The Government’s commitment to helping business will help in the short term. The key is the long term.
The concern for most business is the level of clarity in how the financial packages will be rolled out. The Employment Retention Scheme provides some relief for both employees and employers. A further grant relief package available to small businesses who operate from properties with a Rateable Value of less than £15,000 was also announced.
A lot of businesses in Enniskillen Town Centre will not benefit from this package due to their excessive Rateable Values. To assist with this a further package was announced aimed mainly at hotel, restaurant and certain retail businesses. In this there is a grey area. Being able to benefit from a financial package could be the difference in a business having the ability to reopen or not.
The play button has been paused on business. The question is what will be the long-term impact? Analysts believe that the lockdown will have a very sharp impact but the recovery will be a lot quicker than the hard recession we all experienced from 2008.
The resolve among Fermanagh people is very strong. Fermanagh has traditionally had to work harder for everything as we do not receive the same benefits or investment as other parts of Northern Ireland. We are used to having to work hard and using our attributes to pull ourselves through difficult situations.
My experience in terms of property over the past few weeks is that people are looking ahead. They are looking to the day that we get back to normal. This virus is not going to kill our hopes and dreams. One of the key elements to beating the coronavirus is that spirit. Fermanagh has experienced an influx of homebuyers from England, most coming to Fermanagh to retire. What attracts them to Fermanagh is not just our beautiful scenery but our community spirit, our way of life.
But that community spirit will again be called upon as businesses throughout our county begin to reopen and get back to some normality.
Our small businesses are the life blood of our community and they help to generate that local spirit that so many from outside Fermanagh come here to experience. Some day we will need our community to help press the play button and look towards a future together.