A PUB landlord, gym owner and beauty business owner have been sharing their struggles of the pandemic and talking about the support they need going forward.

Pub landlord Neil Armstrong, of The Chairman, Middlesbrough, Norton entrepreneur Abigail Fletcher, the founder of Eleventh Hour Beauty and gym owner Mike Racz were taking part in an event with Sunderland MP Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury and Jessie Joe Jacobs, Labour’s Tees Valley mayoral candidate.

Ms Fletcher told the politicians she would like to see a scheme in place like Eat Out to Help Out – but for hair and beauty, adding that she knew hairdressers and beauticians who were having to borrow money to feed their children and heat their homes.

Some salons are struggling with not having the cash to replace products which had gone out of date during the lockdown, she said.

Abigail Fletcher, founder of Eleventh Hour

Abigail Fletcher, founder of Eleventh Hour

Abigail Fletcher

She said: “At the moment the research is showing that one in ten hair and beauty businesses didn’t return their owners an income last year and 60 per cent have no cash left for this year.

“The majority are thinking they will last up to three months from January if we remain in lockdown. This is really important.

“When we are open we are down to 70 per cent capacity. That sounds like a high percentage but when 100 per cent doesn’t make a lot then 70 per cent isn’t enough.

“We need support.”

Mr Racz said the key thing for businesses was breathing space. He said: “The last thing we want is to discourage a generation of entrepreneurs not taking that risk, like the one we have all taken.

“Let us grow our way out of all this. That’s the most important thing, breathing space for businesses.”

He added: “There have been a lot of changes about the rules. You’ve got to read up a lot. It takes a lot of time to understand what’s going on.

“I’ve opened and closed gyms three times and we’ve missed our busiest time in January.”

Mr Armstrong described the struggle with being in a town centre, where fewer people lived, the challenges he faced in implementing rules and running at half capacity.

He said: "We can usually fit 60 or 70 people. With restrictions, we can seat 33 people so that's half capacity.

"If that is happening until July is the funding still going to be in place? We can't run at half capacity."

Ms Phillipson said businesses needed a greater degree of clarity and said Labour was calling for an extension of furlough for as long as other restrictions remained in place, an extension of the business rates holiday and VAT cut and for businesses not to have to pay back debt until they are in a stronger position.

She also said the £20 uplift to universal credit should continue.

She said “It was incredibly useful to hear directly from businesses about the challenged that face and their hopes for the future.

“They have all taken the big step of opening their own businesses and driving that job creation. They were clear about the challenges ahead.

“I’ll be taking back their concerns and urging the government to listen to the concerns of our region to get support to get them through this crisis."

She added: "Keir Starmer today set out his vision for the economy. It's a very good opportunity to talk about the longer term recovery."

Ms Jacobs said: “We want Tees Valley to come back bigger and better. We have got great businesses and entrepreneurs here. As we start to rebuild, I’m keen to think of things we can do make Tees Valley to be the best version and even better than before the crisis."

“It might not be an overnight solution but I think the solutions are in the business community.”