IT is a nervous time for thousands of businesses in Oxfordshire as the coronavirus crisis has meant some of their usual customers have disappeared.

As the lockdown eases, many local businesses are battling to make sense of what is happening to the economy, according to Oxfordshire’s Local Enterprise Partnership.

“Coronavirus has been a huge worry for people running a business,” said Helen Brind, who manages programmes for small businesses at OxLEP.

“Even those which have been able to continue some amount of trading are beginning to realise that the world has changed and a lot of things they once took for granted have gone or will be different in the new economy that emerges.”

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In fact, despite their worries, some companies have discovered opportunities.

There are unexpected shifts which look like they are changing business in a positive way for the long term.

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Like so many businesses, The Engine House Gym, a kettlebell gym and personal training business at Ardington near Wantage closed its doors in late March as the lockdown began. It is now running its classes online and delivering recorded training sessions and tutorials to its members.

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“It was a serious shock when we had to close, but we took quick action and committed to delivering a comprehensive live and recorded session plan using video” co-owner Morgan Butler explained.

“We don’t see much prospect of reopening any time soon, but we have transitioned the majority of our customers to our online schedule and delivered the kit they need to their homes.”

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The experience has made The Engine House realise it can continue to provide a great fitness service online in future. It aims to continue the service after the lockdown is lifted. “We have pivoted the business and now see a significant part of what we do will be online. We’ve applied for a grant to help us create a production studio gym with cameras and sound equipment to enable us to produce really high quality sessions.”

Digital health company Consultant Connect has also found the pandemic has led to a change in the way their medical consulting communication platform is used. Originally created to enable GPs to get speedy specialist consultant input for patients with dermatology and other conditions, their digital platform has started to be used more widely as a valued alternative to hospital referrals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Its Chief Executive Jonathan Patrick says interest in their platform has rocketed.

He added: “It is something of a pivot in that GPs and specialists are using the platform differently. We have seen a doubling in use during the pandemic and it has also been deployed to enable GP involvement in the 111 service across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.”

Apart from helping reduce the need for direct doctor-patient contact, with Consultant Connect phone calls mean less than a third of patients require a hospital appointment, creating a major saving. The Welsh government recently installed the platform throughout Wales to include all GPs and hospitals.

The communication platform is now being used by doctors to provide care for 25 million UK patients.

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According to Mr Patrick, it is a reduction in the appetite for face-to-face consultations that has led to a change in perception about the value of the digital consulting platform. The platform is now recognised as having benefits for GP services in care settings and entire regional NHS trusts are looking at having it available for most services across wide areas.

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On a smaller scale, OneCup, an Oxford start-up enterprise has also diverted its effort from creating an app which manages a ‘deposit and return’ service for tea and coffee cups used in cafes and in the events business.

Founder Harrison Hall has seen a new opportunity: “It became obvious that our app can be used to help cafes manage takeaway orders and make it easier for them to be in business despite the challenges of keeping a social distance.”

They are looking to create a network of independent cafes who can use the OneCup app to generate more business during the post-coronavirus recovery.

Mr Hall added: “If people can order and pay for a coffee in advance and pick it up ‘click and collect’ style then the amount of close contact can be eliminated. It will be speedier and safer for staff and customers.”

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They are in the process of working with independent cafes in the Oxfordshire area who would like to offer pre-order options.

Ms Brind said these pivots and new uses for existing services were great examples of innovation. Small businesses can vsit