THE Covid-19 lockdown has challenged almost every business sector in Oxfordshire and beyond.

Some have been able to operate remotely, or to offer alternative services in response to the pandemic. However, many businesses have been forced to shut down completely, placing a strain on revenue, cashflow and jobs.

However, the Oxfordshire business community is resilient and tight-knit, and it is not just determined to bounce back, it wants to come back stronger.

As an accountancy practice at Cypher we have a unique ‘bird’s eye view’ of the Oxfordshire economy, as we support multiple businesses across all walks of life.

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From shops, pubs, and restaurants, though to estate agents, building trades and professional services, we have had an insight into most areas sectors in our business community during lockdown.

And it has been exhilarating to experience the incredible resolve of every business owner during the crisis, and the shared will to survive, protect jobs and continue to service their loyal customers.

But to ensure each business was able to recover and operate as lockdown eases has required detailed support, planning and action.

Initially we held virtual emergency meetings via Zoom for each business that required support.

They quickly became known as ‘lifeboat calls’ - this was right at the beginning of lockdown when government information was still scant, and the enormity of Covid-19 had just hit.

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We helped people work out what grants and loans they could access for disaster recovery and navigated the furlough process.

There were some emotional calls, as businesses had no choice to shut their doors and manage a lot of uncertainty.

We knew many business owners needed quick, regular support and so set up a private Covid-19 emergency business response WhatsApp group for our clients.

It worked as a quick and convenient way for us to share key updates and advice. And what followed was truly uplifting.

More than 100 business owners joined and within days it became a real community, people were bending over backwards to help each other with advice and practical and emotional support. In many cases these were people that had never met.

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In the thick of a crisis it was quite powerful to have a way for people to get instant support and help. Our clients were forming new business relationships and it helped create a real beacon of hope and a collective resolve to get through it together.

Once businesses had accessed various forms of financial support, we followed up with resilience meetings, which help plan, manage cash flow, and establish the best way to re-open financially.

Interestingly some businesses have come out of lockdown in better financial health.

Many accessed the government’s £10,000 grant and Employee Retention Scheme.

A pub that had been refurbishing an auxiliary building into accommodation had been struggling to find the funds to complete the works. But by receiving a grant and accessing a government backed loan they were able to bring down the cost of existing finance and complete the works at a cheaper loan rate.

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Alongside furloughing the team, the business was able to manage in the short term. It is now in a better position to re-open, manage cash flow and grow the business.

The furlough scheme has been a lifeline for many businesses and has undoubtedly saved jobs.

We have advised many businesses to take the government bounce back loans just in case they are required. If they are not, they can be repaid within 12 months without incurring any cost.

We provided all our support without charging additional fees and found the journey intense but rewarding.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly been incredibly difficult and for many it will continue to present ongoing challenges.

But one thing is for sure the Oxfordshire business community will continue to support each other, and I expect we will see more business done between local companies, which is a major positive for our county.

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Cypher is based at Oxford Business Park.

*Businesses can also get support and advice from OxLEP (Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership).

Its business support and events schedule is designed to help companies. It has new support programmes and a number of existing programmes it believes can support the business community both during and after the coronavirus pandemic.