Local: Nick Birss, founder of Laneway & Co

Independent businesses operating in the food and drink sector are among the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Unable to trade as they usually do, many are having to find new and innovative ways of getting to market. Nick Birss of the much-loved Laneway & Co speaks to Richard Dawson about how the High Bridge Street cafe is coping with COVID-19

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

Like many other businesses in the hospitality sector, we were unfortunately forced to close following the government announcement on March 23. This is totally unprecedented, no one has experienced anything like this, so how businesses will be affected going forward will be anyone’s guess. Luckily, we were eligible for the small business grant scheme, which has taken a large weight from our shoulders and means we can effectively mothball the cafe without any major looming financial concerns.

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced?

We were in a fairly good position before this. Our main challenge was managing the downturn in trade, widening of social distancing prior to lockdown and implementing added hygiene precautions around an already busy little cafe. At the moment it seems like the bigger the business the harder they are being hit, and people in Newcastle especially seeming to be rallying around their favourite independents, which is fantastic to see.

Have you diversified or changed your operations to enable you to continue trading?

As soon as we got a hint that there might be forced closure or at least wide restrictions on trade I started to build up a web store. As soon as the nation went into lockdown we were able to start trading, selling bags of coffee and merchandise from our website. It has been doing well and covers most of our ongoing costs plus we had a lot of coffee left in the cafe so I have been able to bag that up, sell it on and minimise waste.

Are you taking advantage of any of the Government’s support schemes? If so, which ones? Is there any additional support you’d like to see announced?

We were eligible for the £10,000 small business grant which has given us vital cashflow and has taken a large weight from our shoulders for now. All of our staff are on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is fantastic and means after lockdown we will still have our amazing team. Both support options were easy to apply for and the grant scheme was administered quickly by the council.

What is your long-term outlook for the business?

At the moment I am confident that the business will still be healthy after the lockdown. We were lucky enough to be eligible for some fantastic funding options from the Government, which drastically improved our long-term outlook. We were planning on opening another site just prior to lockdown so this will still hopefully go ahead and further expansion just on the horizon.

Hopefully everyone will be clamouring for a good coffee after this!

Laneway & Co