Steve Reynolds, Chair, Torbay Business Forum

Just when we were hoping that we might be allowed a short period of Christmas respite with our nearest and dearest, the Coronavirus has dealt us yet another blow. Christmas bubbles have been burst and the promises of “a merry little Christmas” have been shrunk even further. 

Not being able to plan when the rules are changing daily and with no clear path to follow, puts a major strain on every business owner. Our Hospitality and Leisure and Entertainment industries are suffering the most. This has a serious knock-on effect for suppliers, customers and our whole Coastal Community. 

Many normally solid businesses, with strong and loyal client bases, are simply not being allowed to trade. When it costs a business more to open its doors than it does to stay closed, it is a tough call. Even when a business can open, not knowing if customers will be bold enough, or even allowed, to honour a booking is a real challenge. 

Some would say that these things are sent to try us. In which case, what learns can we take from this period and what can we use to build a brighter future? 

In my “day job” I spend my time working with business owners looking at their financial needs. In my spare time I am heavily involved with running several external enterprises. 

As CFO and Bar Chairman of ‘Newton Abbot Rec’, a sports centre and social club, Lockdown shut us down twice. Dealing with the disruption caused by COVID necessitated some extremely challenging conversations, but we have been agile enough to adapt and our staff have pulled together to keep us going with a new and improved offering. 

As Chair of Havencare Homes & Support, a Care provider supporting adults with Learning Disabilities, the mission through 2020 has remained to protect the people who we support and to keep our staff safe. Despite the restrictions brought by the pandemic, this year we completed a merger with a specialist housing provider, Brook Housing, bolstering our sustainability. 

Also, as Chair of my local Parish Council, I have a real view of the first rung of Local Government and how we can impact on our communities. 

The experiences gained from working directly in these truly diverse sectors brings home to me the essentials of Business: Resilience, Collaboration and Partnership. 

Torbay Business Forum would normally run 15 face to face events in a year. Undeterred by COVID, this year, we staged 21 events to support businesses in Torbay and South Devon. Thanks to COVID, we created ‘Breakfast Bytes’ our very own magazine style “morning show”. These virtual events have added a new dimension to the Forum’s activities and brought over 50 special guest speakers to our online audience. 

The TBF has brought businesses together for many years, but with three separate towns, each with its own Chamber of Commerce, the Business Community in Torbay was fragmented. The pandemic environment helped to change that thanks to collaboration. In August, the TBF and the three Chambers of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay, came together to create the new Torbay Business and Chambers Network. 

With each of the Chambers taking a seat on the TBF Exec, we created a “Forum with a Force” and forged new links with the Torbay Hi-tech Cluster. Under the mantra of “better together”, the Forum now stands to represent a united voice for business. 

The amazing Community spirit engendered by this challenging time has brought us all so much closer together. Our new sense of collaboration and social conscience must be retained and nurtured if we are to use this period to learn and to grow. 

Treat this as an opportunity because now is the time to “bottle” the good parts and then use those to help us all move forward. Our Businesses will bounce back better than before, and the show will go on. 

Original story on Torbay Weekly