Lockdown Entrepreneurism

Despite lockdown conditions, some of Skipton’s businesses were able to thrive through the pandemic. Others had to completely change their business model to survive.

by Liz Smailes, Marketing & Communications Officer, Skipton BID

Food and lifestyle photographer
Jo Denison in her Skipton studio

When we face a crisis we don’t have time to explore all options in-depth. We also don’t need to reinvent the wheel; just put a new tire on it or sometimes all it needs is more air. In the process of choosing which metaphorical tire or how much air, the core values on which a company was founded become the guide towards clear decisions. Keeping the company vision and the values at the forefront, adapt them to the current situation and know that as long as you’re living them, you will be okay.

Jo Denison

Jo Denison did exactly that in March this year. A professional food and lifestyle photographer who moved to Skipton in 2019, with a string of national supermarkets and local independent retailers in her regular client portfolio, as well as travel, charity and heritage clients, nobody could accuse Jo of putting all her eggs in one basket. Yet when Covid-19 hit the UK, her phone and emails stopped too, just like most businesses. Instead of hiding behind her closed studio doors and under dark lights, Jo took her camera and her skills on to the streets to capture the success stories emerging during lockdown.

Skipton Lockdown Stories by Jo Denison

I started this project in week six of lockdown after being inspired by Skipton’s local food producers and independent shops, their entrepreneurial skill and network of cooperation, working throughout the lockdown to support the town’s people in a crisis and to survive themselves.

Owners of The Mess Room in Skipton stand in the doorway with a barrel of beer
The Mess Room
Steve and Julia McAnamara set up the small community bar The Mess Room in Summer 2019 out of “a shared love of craft ale, quality drinks and live music”.
Steve and Julia realised that not only pubs were going to be hit directly by the closures but also the breweries, particularly the small and micro breweries that have evolved alongside the recent craft ale boom. They contacted local brewers and arranged the 10ltr “real ale bag in a box”, available to pre-order for pickup every Friday. It took off after the first week and has helped keep some of the local micro breweries in business. They are also now selling bottles and cocktails.

Over the last few weeks and months our food shopping habits have changed pretty much overnight. Faced with long queues, empty shelves and the risk of crowds in the supermarket, we have turned to use delivery services, but many have also chosen to visit the local independent shops more frequently than before.

Not only do we rely more on local producers and suppliers, but the trip out to the green grocer, or the 6ft apart door-step chat with the delivery driver has become an important social interaction, a link to the outside world, a bit of normality in a strange time. 

Most food businesses are severely affected by the lockdown, some had to completely reinvent themselves, forging new alliances to secure supply, open themselves up to new markets, digital platforms and customer bases, all while ensuring their own safety and the safety of their customers and staff. Of course, the dominance of the giant online retailers is a threat to small independents, but there are also many opportunities in this situation and hopefully the renewed popularity of the independents is here to stay in the long term.

Owners of Steep & Filter eco and grocery store stand in the doorway of their shop in Skipton's Otley Street
Steep and Filter
Dally and Michael originally set up Steep and Filter as a vegan café and a refill store for dried goods, selling pulses, nuts, seeds, grains, Eco toiletries and cleaning products.
When Covid hit, they realized the grain store alone wouldn’t be enough to keep the shop open. Reacting to demand they started picking up surplus veg from the restaurant trade, sacks of flour and yeast, quickly turning Steep and Filter into a small green grocer. They also supply veg boxes ordered over the phone, customers don’t even need to get out of their car, they just drive by and pop the boot. Michael and Dally find that their customers often end up having long chats whilst shopping, there is a lovely peacefulness about Steep and Filter and Dally is a good listener. 

Steep and Filter support the Skipton Food Bank with goods that they are urgently missing and they are currently raising money to fund this further.

Wholesale vegetable company Class One changed their business model to provide for the public
Class One
Class One usually supplies wholesale fruit, veg and groceries to hospitality businesses and restaurants throughout Yorkshire, Lancashire and The Lake District. With lockdown this stopped virtually overnight. Worried about the amount of surplus veg they had in stock Class One used Facebook to advertise a local veg delivery service. Other independent businesses in Skipton soon took up the spare veg to sell in their shops and market stalls. And to their surprise, within the first week, as the supermarket shelves had been emptied, new customers from Skipton and the surrounding areas instantly picked up the delivery service.. Demand has levelled off since supermarkets have caught up but they have retained a good number of new customers. The online shop is currently under development and they will continue to provide the service even after lockdown measures have eased.

I’m a commercial photographer by trade, specialising in food and lifestyle photography, so I have a professional interest in food culture. I also love good food, local produce, artisan manufacturing methods and I care about the environmental impact of food consumption.

Being an independent freelance entrepreneur in my own business, which I choose to base in Skipton rather than one of the metropolitan areas, I feel a connection with the other small traders in town. And, not least, my business has itself been hit by the crisis and I too am faced with having to reinvent myself to some degree.

In the last few weeks I have met some of the independent food suppliers of Skipton. The people photographed are based on my personal involvement and often one encounter led me to another, there is no particular order and I am sure I have missed out many.

Chef-Owner Bruce Elsworth stands with meals freshly cooked and ready for home delivery
Elsworth Kitchen
Bruce and Rebecca Elsworth run a restaurant where they champion local and seasonal food. To be able to react to what produce is freshly available, their set-menu changes every week. When lockdown closed restaurants Elsworth Kitchen started running a home delivery service supplying their usual full multi-course menu to their customers at home every Friday evening, enlisting the help of friends and family as delivery drivers. It was an instant success. The word spread and families began to meet their friends on Zoom for their Elsworth Kitchen meals, sharing the experience. Rearranging their business model has been difficult, many a late night was filled with printing bags and sticking stickers on lids. But it has been worth the effort, Bruce and Rebecca are getting a lot of positive feedback from their regular customers, who look forward to their Elsworth meal each week. They say they feel very lucky to be so well supported by the local community.

Artisan beer shop owner stands at the counter in his Skipton shop, The Growling Shrew
The Growling Shrew
Kev and Michelle Mitchell set up the Growling Shrew in 2018. It’s an off-licence bottle shop selling beers, ciders and gins from small artisan breweries, cideries and distilleries. Apart from tins and bottles, they have 4 different styles and strengths of draught beer on offer for refill in special refill bottles, called growlers. Due to a special system these keep fresh for 60 days.When lockdown hit Kev and Michelle closed the shop initially, but upon feedback from their customers started a delivery service.  As there is no online shop, their regular customers, who know the stock well, ring up for specific orders. Kev and Michelle also introduced mystery pack orders where the customer gives a style and budget and receives a varied crate of beers. They also had requests for exactly the same mystery packs to go out to various groups of friends who then had Zoom beer tasting evenings. On a Friday morning Kev goes out collecting the empty growler bottles from his customer’s doorsteps and he then delivers the filled bottles that afternoon or Saturday morning. He prides himself in knowing most of his clients personally, so much so, that he stocks his shop according to their preferences. Kev and Michelle are very thankful for the support from the local community. And it seems this is also true the other way around, recently one customer thanked them for ‘keeping Skipton well oiled’ during lockdown.
Butchers of Sutcliffe's in Skipton stand outside their shop with fresh cuts of meat in their hands.
Sutcliffe’s Butcher
Lee Thompson and Pete Hudson have been working long hours through lockdown at Sutcliffe’s Butchers. While Sutcliffe’s have lost business with pubs and restaurants, they have now introduced a home delivery service and supply to care homes and sheltered housing. In the shop, they have been busier than normal with new customers having found their way to the high street as a result of supermarket shortages in the early stages of lockdown. Many new clients seem to be enjoying the quality of the produce and the shopping experience at a traditional butcher, asking advice on what to order and how to cook the meat, as they are buying different cuts than they would normally do at a supermarket. 
Lee and Pete hope their new customers will continue to shop on the high street after lockdown, but recognise that parking can be a problem and, once everyone is back to working long days, the supermarkets may be more convenient for many.
Chocolates and Truffles
After shutting her High Street shop, Michelle Nye, owner of Chocolates and Truffles thought that she wouldn’t be busy making chocolates over lockdown, however they had an unexpected surge of orders over Easter through the on-line shop. Michelle thinks that with the pandemic people have wanted to show their love to friends and family they couldn’t be with. As Michelle would turn up at people’s doorsteps home delivering a surprise gift, she felt like she was helping share and spread the love. Although chocolates might not be considered an essential, she was astounded by how emotional it was to deliver them, people were overwhelmed and touched and she felt it was an unexpected and important task. She has loved working through lockdown and is proud to also have supported the Wilberforce Trust, a charity for the visual and hearing imapaired. As for many of the independent shops the immediate future stays uncertain. Michelle is looking forward to opening her shop again from next week but it will be at reduced hours to begin with because no one knows if customers are ready to go back to normal just yet.
Cheese stand on Skipton Market
Skipton Market Cheese Stall
Dave Craig has worked on the markets all his life, he retired for five years but missed the busy lifestyle and friendships so much he came back in Feb 2019 running the Skipton Market Cheese Stall. It seems the customers were also missing personal interaction, the stall has been busier than ever during lockdown and he hopes the renewed popularity of the market will continue.

To view the full collection of Jo’s Lockdown Stories project please visit her instagram @JoDenison. Her regular work can be found on her website https://www.jodenison.co.uk/about/

As nonessential shops are set to reopen on Monday June 15th, we commend all of Skipton’s business owners who have made changes to their operations and retail spaces, ensuring it is a safe working environment and a pleasurable shopping experience. Skipton BID wishes each and every one of you all the very best for the future. Our town simply would not be the friendly and attractive place it is without you all.

To our readers, if you have discovered or supported an independent retailer or restaurant during the lockdown, let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

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