It was lovely to welcome Joanne Malki of Cafe Neena's in Chester-le-Street at our recent Zoom meeting.  As a business operating in the hospitality sector, we asked Joanne to share her current experiences with us.

"Our Covid 19 experience has had it's highs and lows the same as most other businesses.  Trading had already started slowing down throughout march, but serving takeaways only was very poor.  Although we still had lots of stock, we had to make the hardest decision ever.  That we were going to close our premises for the foreseeable future.

We have been luckier than a lot of people as we didn’t have any staff to consider and that DCC gave us a grant of ten thousand pounds really quickly.  This money has helped us pay all our ongoing business costs and we are very grateful for the assistance. It was our lifeline.

We have accessed many sites to see what help we may be entitled too as our income had completely stopped.  We were forced to apply for universal credit although payment would take 5 weeks, arriving at the end of April.  We have applied for the self-employed income support scheme and are awaiting a payment.  Without all of these measures that are in place we would certainly not be in the position of reopening our business when it is safe to do so.

Although there is a bounce bank loan we can apply for, we are reluctant to apply in case we struggle to recover.  The future is very uncertain for the hospitality industry and many others.  I think businesses will need a lot of clear guidance on how it will be possible to reopen and stay safe.  Also, lots of help going forward so we can get our livelihoods back".

We all wish Joanne the very best of success with Cafe Neena's going forward and hope that we can help and support her.