Grants a lifeline for Southend tourism

Business grants are helping to keep Southend’s tourism industry afloat as hotels praise the funding scheme for being a “lifesaver” during the coronavirus lockdown.

Southend Council has distributed £31.6million in government-funded grants over the past month, with many going to those struggling to survive.

Penny Lowen, 59, owner of the Gleneagles Guesthouse on Clifftown Parade in Southend, said the extra funding had helped her keep her business from closing down as a result of the lockdown.

“Takings have plummeted and it is going to be a really difficult few months but luckily we have now got the grant so we are no longer in the red,” she explained.

“At one point it was very touch and go.”

The hotel owner said that since the lockdown began all but one member of staff had to be furloughed to save money and described the grant as a “lifesaver” for her business.

She added that without the extra money she would have been forced to survive off a bank overdraft.

She has also applied to take advantage of the new Bounce Bank Loans which the government made available to businesses on Monday. It allows companies to borrow up to £50,000 interest free for the first 12 months.

Other ways the hotel is keeping afloat is by supporting key workers and offering rooms to people ranging from health workers to traffic management teams.

Their traditional afternoon tea service has also become a takeaway and delivery business, which Ms Lowen said had “taken off”.

This week the government expanded the grant scheme to allow smaller businesses to apply, including B&Bs which pay council tax rather than business rates.

One of those businesses now eligible is The Moorings Bed and Breakfast, on Eastern Esplanade.

Owner Emma Bearman, 32, said she was looking into what grants she may be able to receive but in the meantime she has been able to stay open by offering rooms to key workers and people attending funerals.

She said: “We get people stay here who are self-isolating and we don’t see them but we put what they need on the door handle for them. It works very well.

“When we go in and clean the rooms afterwards, we do it with protective equipment.

“We also have people coming to stay who are attending funerals and the council have said they are happy for that as long as they are close members of the family.

“I haven’t actually applied for any grants yet because we are lucky enough to still be open and in business but there are many who aren’t and this will be really important to them.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter