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Copper Rivet, Folkestone Leas Lift and Rico Sabor among businesses thriving despite lockdown

Covid-19 has brought with it the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Financial experts have forecast that countries may not recover until 2025 with thousands of companies going bust and millions losing their jobs.

The UK has seen the collapse and demise of High Street names such as Laura Ashley, Warehouse, Oasis, Debenhams going into administration at start of April, and Cath Kidston not reopening its shops.

Shopping habits have changed since lockdown
Shopping habits have changed since lockdown

Others have slashed the number of branches and made large-scale redundancies.

But ironically it's many of the smaller independent businesses that for decades have struggled fighting off competition from the "big boys" which have come out well.

Not having the support of unions, or management packages behind them, they have had to rely on different ways of working, initiative, flexibility - and sheer hard graft.

And that can be seen in numerous cases in Kent where entrepreneurial skills have come to the fore to turn livelihoods around.

We have taken a look at some businesses,some of them one-man band outfits, which have knuckled down, ridden the storm and bucked the trend over the last seven months.

Rico Sabor, Rochester

El Olivo - opened following lockdown (42882879)
El Olivo - opened following lockdown (42882879)

When lockdown forced Julian Ramirez to close his Spanish and Latin American restaurant in the High Street, he decided to open a takeaway community shop.

Getting up in the early hours of the morning to travel to his wholesalers in London, Julian returned laden with boxes of staple foods such as eggs,bread, meat, pasta and tinned food.

Throughout lockdown, customers were queueing along the High Street to his makeshift pavement counter throughout the day.

Apart from maintaining supply lines, Julian made enough profit to plough into a new business, a delicatessen, El Olivo a few doors away.

He said: "Since moving to Rochester we made to feel at home and part of the community. This was our way of helping out the community."

From gin to sanitiser

Copper Rivet’s Stephen Russell with a selection of the Eschmann hand sanitiser products
Copper Rivet’s Stephen Russell with a selection of the Eschmann hand sanitiser products

With pubs, bars and restaurant closures, distilleries across the county turned their handto developing sanitisers, instead of spirits to bolster the nation's supplies.

One of them, the Copper Rivet at Chatham Maritime, makes its own neutral alcohol suitable for use as the cleansing product.

The family-run business teamed up with Faversham-based brewersShepherd Neame, to supply specially-brewed, high-strength beer in bulk to boost its supply of alcohol for its distillation process. Alcohol with a minimum of 60% strength and compounds to slow the evaporation of the liquid is needed to ensure there is enough contact with the virus long enough to kill it.

Stephen Russell, Copper Rivet, co-founder, said: "This new sanitiser product allows us to help the wider community, protect distillery jobs and perhaps creatively develop a totally new range of products.

One of the distillery's customers is London's Metropolitan Police.

Mark Roberts, director of commercial services at the Met, said: "Hand sanitser is an essential item for our officers and staff, especially those on the frontline."

Greensand Ridge, a distillery in Tonbridge, also switched production to keep cash flowing and to help those most in need during the crisis.

Staff at Maidstone Distillery madehand sanitiser for health workers.

Husband and wife team, Darren and Samantha Graves are behind the new venture housed in the county town's former corn exchange in the Market Buildings

Esquires Cafe

Owner of Esquires Coffee Gurjit Rhandhawa (39103856)
Owner of Esquires Coffee Gurjit Rhandhawa (39103856)

People working from home and not heading to the office has paid off for a Dartford cafe owner who is set to expand, despite the pandemic.

Gurjit Randhawa who runs Esquires Cafe in theHigh Street,has seen his business boom with WFHLondon-based workers arriving with their laptops at 9amand staying until the afternoon.

Gurjit said as long as they are topping up their drinks and buying food he doesn't mind.

He said: "This (pandemic) is going to be something we are going to be living with for a long time.

"Working trends have changed and we are looking at this and thinking - why not create a space for them?"

Buoyed by increased footfall and spending during the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August, franchise owner Gurjit decided to press ahead with anotherlarger cafe just two miles down the road in Crayford.

He said: "It was a fantastic start - I'm really happy it was taken by people which is the main thing. When we started seeing the same faces over and over again I knew I had done something right. Repeat customers make you feel confident you are doing it right."

Busking Barber

The Busking Barber Aaron Simmons
The Busking Barber Aaron Simmons

While Gurjit has defied the grim economic outlook by encouraging people to come and spend money in his cafes, barber Aaron Simmons is doing the opposite and taking hisbusiness to the doorstep.

When Aaron's two sources of income, cutting hair and playing music, dried up overnight, he confessed to going into a "blind panic".

He had considered starting a mobile hairdressing business before the pandemic, but withgovernment health and safety regulations in place, hewas wary about going inside clients' homes.

So he bought a van and kitted it out as a barber's shop, complete with chair, sink and traditional panelling - and with that The Busking Barber was born.

Aaron, 28, manages up to 12 appointments a day working long hours six days a week. His new set-up has cost him about £8,500 and, with help from his dad, it seems to be paying off.

Aaron, who lives in Rochester, is currently only working the Medway area and finds the trafficcongestion getting to and from addresses a challenge. But he has plans to expand to other towns in the county.

He said:"Working for myself works for me. So far, so good."

Lotties' Lollies

Charlotte Watson with daughter Amara, aged four
Charlotte Watson with daughter Amara, aged four

Beauty therapist Charlotte Watson decided on a career makeover during lockdown. Instead of performing facials in salons, the 31-year-old mum is driving around Maidstone in an ice cream van delivering desserts.

She's loving every minute of her new venture, and, is reaping the sweet taste of success.

Charlotte was forced to stop working as a trainer and therapistbased at Blow and Blush in Bearsted back in March. Looking for something else to do, she came up with the idea of buying a Mr Whippy van and running a home delivery service.

She teamed up with business partner Jake Butcher, managing director of Maidstone construction company Glosrose - they bought a second-hand vehicle and Lottie's Lollies hit the road.

She said: "We both wanted to something different, so thought why not?You can pay up to £150,00 for an ice cream van, but we were just dipping our toes in the water."

Initially, Charlotte, mum to Amara, aged four, started creating themed puddings with children in mind. But it soon became apparent that her novelty creations were a big hit with grown-ups.

She said:"With people not going out and eating a meal with a bottle of wine at home, they wanted something nice to go with it."

Charlotte, who lives in Maidstone, serves the whole of the county town from Friday and over weekends.

With businesss booming she is taking over a unit atNewnham Court, Notcutts, Bearsted next month where customers can collect desserts. She is also looking to get a second van next April to expand the operation.

The Plough and Harrow

New owner Niko Knight has taken over the Greek restaurant, which is now operating as a takeaway
New owner Niko Knight has taken over the Greek restaurant, which is now operating as a takeaway

A Greek restaurant near Sittingbourne which was shut down due to coronavirus has been reopened by a former chef wo returned to make it into a takeaway.

To customers' disappointment,The Plough and Harrow Taverna in Borden closed after owners decided to move closer to their family in Cyprus, They said the business was unviablebecause of social distancing restrictions.

But chef Niko Knight who worked at the restaurant for three years returned by popular demand to reopen the kitchen.

The 36-year-old said: "I decided to open it myself after being head chef for the past few years and I didn't want to stop serving our lovely customers. "

Leas Life Cafe in Folkestone

A new cafe will open in the Leas Lifts at Folkestone. It will be run by Jamie Evans, with Emily Fahey. Picture: Leas Lift CIC
A new cafe will open in the Leas Lifts at Folkestone. It will be run by Jamie Evans, with Emily Fahey. Picture: Leas Lift CIC

Jamie Evans and Emily Fahey leapt at the chance to transform part of the historic Leas Lift in Folkestone into a cafe - despite the poor timing.

The Grade 2-listed lowerstation, a seafront landmark, which was built in 1885 and is a rare cliff funicular railway,has been renovated. The couple lived in London before moving to the town a few years ago.

Jamie said:"It may be a mad time to open a new cafe what with being in the midst of a global pandemic and not to mention Emily being heavily pregnant.

"However, when the chance to open something in the unique Leas Lift arose it was opportunity too good to miss."

Emily added:"The idea of giving life to such an iconic building which would otherwise sit empty and neglected is exciting for us and we can't wait to be part of the journey of restoring the lift to its former glory."

The lift was closed three years ago due to safety issues with the braking system.

The Lift Cafe will help raise funds to help secure a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to pay for restoration.

Sequinned masks

Seamstress Sarah Greenwell
Seamstress Sarah Greenwell

Meanwhile seamstress Sarah Greenwell is putting the sparkle back into Christmas by making sequinned face masks.

Her bling face coverings have taken off with customers snapping them up as stocking fillers and the must have "going out" accessory for celebrating indoors.

With weddings, school proms and gala balls disappearing overnight in March, mum Sarah saw the lack of PPE at the time and started making masks for key workers in Cliffe Woods, near Rochester where she lives.

The word soon spread and over the last six months she has knocked out 450 face coverings using cotton she had stashed away for upholstery repairs."

The 46-year-old said: "I'm a sparkly person, so thought this was a great idea. Nobody really know what's going to happen overChristmas, so hopefully this will creae a little sparkle we all need.

Sarah is also making children's masks with designs from kiddies movies.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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