Durham’s Cafédral Café: “The immediate future looks bleak”

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In a year of unprecedented economic challenges, it has been clear that the hospitality industry has taken a huge hit. A seismic shift has occurred nationwide, with 44% of small businesses in the past year having to cut jobs and 75% accessing the furlough scheme for support. In October, Palatinate revealed that Durham City had suffered a loss of £17 million since the start of the pandemic. But what exactly does this mean for small, local businesses? speaks to Mark Goff, the owner of Cafédral in Durham City, to elucidate the impact of Covid-19 measures on his family-owned café.

Goff’s partner opened Cafédral in March 2016 and had “year on year growth” up until Covid-19 began sweeping the UK and the café was forced to shut on Friday 20th March. Eventually, when the country started to re-open, Cafédral decided to remain closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) scheme, and instead decided only open on Wednesdays.

Cafédral’s revenue is at 50% of this time last year

However, Goff believes that the “whole initiative served only to cannibalise the weekend trade and move it to the start of the week”, resulting in administrative issues like staffing requirements for the rest of the week. Goff is also critical of the scheme recalling that on the last day of the EOTHO scheme (26th August), 200 people had eaten in the café in a period of 7 hours – approximately 30 people an hour, but only 30 people were limited to his daughter’s wedding, in a church approximately 20 times the size of the café.

For many small businesses, the pandemic has forced a re-assessment of their strategies. Cafédral’s revenue is at 50% of this time last year. In the longer term, they are considering extending opening hours into the evening and hosting more events like music and comedy nights. They have set up a take-out and delivery service, but this is up for change depending on how the pandemic evolves. However, he also notes the retail in Durham was “in a downwards spiral before Covid-19” and “accelerates as people stay out of town by edict or through fear of Covid-19, which will in turn result in the demise of yet more shops.”

A large swathe of our local customer base vanished off the face of the earth

The city itself has changed drastically. Goff notes that “a large swathe of our local customer base [has] vanished off the face of the earth with the return of the students … [mainly] the elderly [who] are staying at home as they are afraid of Covid-19 and crowds”. He adds that people are beginning to become “weary” of it all due to “the contradictory nature of the government’s ill-considered knee-jerk reactions”, where nothing is being properly thought through.

However, for the future, Goff remains optimistic that their “business will survive and ultimately thrive” as many others “will go to the wall”. But “the [immediate] future looks bleak”, with the continuation of various lockdowns and people increasingly becoming tired of “family and friends suffering from isolation and a lack of medical treatment for other illnesses, the destruction of the arts, culture, sport, pubs and a meaningful social life.” Yet undoubtedly, like many, he believes the virus “in different forms will be with us for many years to come”.

This interview was carried out before the current national lockdown and the decision to teach the entirety of Epiphany Term online.

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