It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog post. Looking back over 2021, I only wrote three and not many the year before either. I’ve struggled to find the words to convey the enormity of what has and is happening to us since the beginning of the pandemic. My words have felt totally inadequate in terms of offering any comfort or empathy. In the end, I felt as if I was just adding to the constant noise and not adding anything meaningful to the conversation.
So, away from Baa Baa Brighouse, I have raged at the ongoing incompetence of our leaders and the injustice we all feel at their actions – Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings – I’m looking at you. That’s even before the gravy train stops at No. 10 ‘Party Central’ Downing Street. And whilst millions upon millions were frittered away on dodgy PPE, a useless test and trace system and copious amounts of cheese and wine, my little business like thousands of others across the UK suffered.
There is no good time for a pandemic, but this particular one couldn’t have had worse timing, coupled as it is with the onslaught of Brexit. As you may know, we stopped shipping to the EU in July following changes to VAT rules which incurred increased costs and paperwork. This has meant a loss of around 20% of all sales but more than that, it has meant no longer keeping in touch with what were once regular customers in France, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and beyond.
Back in 2017, many of these customers supported our Kickstarter campaign to convert a room in our house into a bricks and mortar yarn shop. Sadly, it now seems unlikely that they will see that idea come to fruition. As a small online business, I relied on sales abroad as well as at home to reinvest and replenish stock but I am now not able to do this on the scale necessary for a bricks and mortar store. The loss of EU sales has not been replaced by an uptick in UK and other international sales as the world’s economies grapple with Covid. Fewer businesses surviving inevitably means fewer people in employment with far less income to spend.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, given the spiraling number of positive cases in the UK, is the attitude of some people towards vaccination and mask wearing. Opening a bricks and mortar shop in what is essentially my home was ideal pre-pandemic but now it poses a major concern. The one place myself and my family (particularly my children – two of which are not yet old enough to be vaccinated) should feel safe is at home. However, inviting customers into our home who may not be vaccinated, may be unwilling to wear a mask and may actually be confrontational if challenged is not something I am willing to deal with.
I already have to send my youngest two into an unventilated school every day where the few mitigations that were in place have now been removed. There have been cases of the virus affecting pupils at their school with some hospitalised and absent for months. Given that there were more than 500 children in England admitted to hospital in the week leading to Boxing Day, I don’t think I am being over cautious.
So, while the fabric of the building has been altered to accommodate retail premises, the idea of opening a bricks and mortar shop is being shelved for the foreseeable future. With Covid raging, people unwilling to behave responsibly and a government intent on doing the maximum amount of damage because they can’t bear to accept their populist ideology is fundamentally flawed, remaining as an online shop, at least for now, seems the most sensible option. Perhaps one day we will be in a position to revisit the idea but unfortunately it won’t be anytime soon.