Staying present, at a safe distance, for local craft businesses

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By Dr Scott Taylor
Department of Management, University of Birmingham

State intervention during the coronavirus pandemic is focused on two areas: first, healthcare and second, the economy. There can be tensions between the aims of these two policy spheres – large busy workplaces producing goods and retail outlets selling those goods are spaces where current health guidance is difficult to practice, but sudden redundancy or inability to buy basic essentials are equally dangerous. Many governments have been willing to close non-essential workplaces; many have also shown resolve in requiring shops, malls and social spaces to close temporarily. These larger organisations have loud political voices and support is relatively easy to provide at scale through the tax and National Insurance system.

Alongside these interventions focused on the large scale economy, governments are also starting to take care of smaller local contributors to our everyday lives, developing (some) support for the self-employed. Sole traders and small to medium-sized organisations are often the most precarious parts of our economy in terms of cashflow, and therefore they are most likely to stop trading altogether in just a matter of weeks or months. For this reason, they need as much certainty as can be provided, in simple things – for example, some warning, even just 24 hours, before they are required to close. Even well-known giants of the UK’s new craft sector like BrewDog have experienced 70% reduction in income and are “fighting to survive” since the outbreak.

So, how can we support our small to medium sized, locally rooted, craft businesses?

  1. As consumers we can show trust in buying goods from them. Food producers such as the many batch bakers or craft drinks makers always work to exceptionally high hygiene standards; this is even more the case now in bakeries like Hart’s in Bristol. Many are working hard to maintain production and being creative about how to transfer goods to customers safely, either on site on through more delivery.
  2. More radically, show support in making donations to small-scale local businesses that operate on very tight margins in highly competitive markets. Some community organisations such as leisure centres or outdoor swimming pools operate as non-profit trusts, and have a relatively easy emergency ‘sell’ to local users in terms of maintaining some income. Privately owned businesses, even very well-known craftspeople, have a tougher case to make, and may be too proud to do this.

We can offer, though – perhaps those of us with a secure salaried income can redirect some of our saved commuting expenses, to support a local baker through these unprecedentedly tough times. Craft businesses often use crowdfunding to establish and develop, now is your chance to help in that way, or in any other creative ways possible. The UK’s fascinating, innovative contemporary craft sector is still nascent, and vulnerable to sudden large scale socio-economic changes. So they are still there when we emerge, let’s support our local businesses, safely and carefully following public health guidance.

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