Eating From a Box

I’m eating from a box.  I’m eating from a cardboard box.  I’m eating from a box.  (Anyone who doesn’t like ’80s music won’t get that, sorry.)   I’m eating from cardboard boxes – or paper bags – because, here in an area of the country which has been under additional restrictions since the end of July, restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and tea rooms are not allowed to open, unless it’s to serve takeaways or food for delivery.

We’re doing our best.  We really are.  It’s quite fun, in a Spirit of the Blitz kind of way, to buy a cardboard cup of mulled wine from a local cafe which has set up a cauldron at the side of one of the busiest main roads in the country, and to drink it whilst standing on the pavement, chatting to whoever else happens to be there, over the noise of the traffic.  Or to see people cooking paella outside the Spanish cafe near the library, or holding a barbecue at the side of National Trust cafe in December when the temperature outside’s barely above freezing.   Well, as long as it’s not raining, anyway.

But it’s really not much fun for the people running these places, especially those running small independent businesses.  These businesses get not a penny more in financial support than those in Tier 1 and Tier 2, which are able to throw their doors open and welcome customers inside, or at least to have customers sitting at tables outside.   Some of them have spent a considerable amount of money in adapting their premises so that they can serve take-aways – that’s a lot of money out at a time when they’re getting very little money in.  They don’t want to close, because then their loyal customers will have no choice but to go elsewhere.   I’ve had distressed owners and staff, in cafes which would normally be packed out at this time of year, apologising for only being able to offer me a very small selection to choose from, saying that they’re no longer able to serve fresh cream cakes as the cream doesn’t keep and they aren’t selling enough in a day for it to be viable.  And that they’ve had to run down their stock of frozen goods because they can no longer afford the electricity to keep all their freezers running.

Places whose business is linked to particular events – pubs and cafes near football grounds, or people who run stalls at music events – aren’t even getting any business from takeaways and deliveries.

And yet, as I’ve said, these businesses get not a penny more in financial support than those in Tier 1 and Tier 2. This is what Andy Burnham keeps saying.  This is what Gary Neville was saying on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday yesterday, when he tore strips off both main political parties: maybe we should have footballers running the country.   We’ve already had an SOS beamed on to the side of Blackpool Tower.  Should we try beaming one on to every landmark of every area of the North and Midlands which is suffering like this?

Places are closing down already.  Some independent businesses in the hospitality sector can’t keep going much longer.   We’ve got an action group trying to promote local economic recovery.  UnitedCity.  This is Manchester, OK: we like using football terminology!   But it’s not easy, when there’s so little support available.

I’m going to keep eating from cardboard boxes.  And paper bags.  And just hope that it isn’t for much longer.  Because we can’t go on like this for much longer.  However much fun it may be to drink mulled wine by the roadside.

How can it be right than small hospitality businesses in Tier 3, which are banned from welcoming in customers, only get the same grants as those in Tier 1 and Tier 2?  Well, quite frankly, it isn’t.


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