INNOVATIVE Warrington companies are battling prolonged financial damage because of the coronavirus crisis.

While the town centre has reopened for business as the borough’s economic recovery continues, it remains an extremely testing period for many firms.

Anthony’s Pizza, on Bridge Street, teamed up with Just Eat in a bid to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

However, business is still far from where it hoped it would be.

Owner Jakub Follmueller said he had no choice but to keep the site open during the lockdown for takeaways.

He said: “I bought that business in February and after that came coronavirus.

“I spent all of my savings. I do this for my son, that is it, just for my son to make him a good future.

“We changed for takeaways, we joined with Just Eat and started being busier than before but it’s still not my dream.”

Meanwhile, Jakub highlighted his commitment to keep people safe.

“I care about myself and the customer,” he said.

Warrington Guardian:

Anthony’s Pizza owner Jakub Follmueller

On whether he is worried about the prospect of a second coronavirus wave, he added: “We will see because with coronavirus nobody knows nothing yet.

“So maybe there will be a next lockdown, maybe not, maybe a different virus, we will see.”

It has also been a worrying time for RAM properties, which provides new and refurbished office space in the town centre.

The company, which has its head office at Tannery Court, has carried out deep cleans at all of its sites, introduced sanitiser stations and social distancing signage.

Director Richard McLaughlin said: “We are commercial landlords so we own office buildings in Warrington and we rent them out to businesses.

“Effectively for us a lot of businesses just worked from home, either people were on furlough or they shut the office because of recommendations and guidelines – all the buildings were more or less empty.

“There was the odd company that was still working but a lot of our buildings were very, very quiet.

“So obviously if we have got no one in our buildings there is very little for us to do.

“We kept the buildings open as there some businesses who needed them and we still managed to make sure they were getting cleaned daily and that they were safe to use.”

The business is a member of Warrington Business Exchange, which brings firms together to network and collaborate. It moved its networking meetings online during the lockdown.

Richard says RAM Properties’ buildings are still not back to full capacity and highlighted the financial hit for the company.

He said: “We have still got a percentage of our tenants working from home and things like that, so it’s certainly not back to where we want it or where we should be.

“We have been hit because we have had to give concessions and we’ve had companies go bust on us.

“It has been pretty tough and it’s only going to get tougher I would imagine with the market and everything else.

“We have done deep cleans of all our buildings.”

Warrington’s flagship leisure destination, Time Square, is springing to life with the reopening of some key venues, along with the recent opening of the new market.

Warrington Guardian:

Cineworld and The Botanist at Time Square

Premier food and drink haven The Botanist officially opened its doors again to customers on July 13, while Cineworld will reopen tomorrow, Friday.

Offering an eclectic range of botanical cocktails, craft ales and a food menu inspired by the comforting flavours of home, The Botanist has been hugely popular since its initial opening in December last year.

And its reopening came as a major boost to the offer at Time Square, which is the Labour-run council’s £142.5 million town centre regeneration scheme.

The venue has put a range of measures in place to keep customers safe and, while walk-ins are still welcome, booking in advance is recommended.

Cineworld has put in a number of safety measures, including hand sanitising stations, distanced seating and staggered film times to manage queues and avoid the build-up of crowds.

Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden said: “Time Square has a huge role to play in the success of our town centre, so it’s great news that these hugely popular, flagship venues are welcoming customers once more.

“It’s another big step forward in the reopening of the heart of our town.”

Warrington Guardian:

Cllr Russ Bowden

Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols has vowed to continue pushing the Government for extra financial support to help leisure businesses.

Indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports halls in England were allowed to reopen their doors on Saturday.

Labour's Ms Nichols has visited Ryfields Gym to get a tour of the site and heard about the steps they took to reopen safely.

She said: "As has been the case for so many businesses during the Covid-19 crisis, it has been a challenging time for the fitness industry.

"I am sure the news that they can now reopen has been a relief to many. Gyms like Ryfields are hugely beneficial to maintaining health and wellbeing.

"I was really impressed with the thought that has gone into making their gym Covid-secure and it was great to hear about their plans for the future of the business too.

"I will continue to push the Government for extra financial support to help leisure businesses across our community through this period of transition and the extra overheads associated with social distancing to ensure they can stay viable."

Conservative Warrington South MP Andy Carter visited three popular town centre venues to discuss the Chancellor's economic package to get the hospitality industry firing again.

San Lorenzo restaurant, Charlie's Bar and the Terrace Gin and Cigar Bar – which are part of the same group – reopened earlier this month with new safety procedures in place.

Group director Adam Smith said: “The council provided clear and detailed guidelines that we were able to follow and implement prior to reopening – we’re grateful for all they have done for us.

"We have staggered our reopenings to allow us time to concentrate on getting everything right and improve any procedures where necessary."

Mr Carter praised the measures that have been put in place at the sites.

Warrington Guardian:

MP Andy Carter at San Lorenzo

He said: "After a busy week, I have really enjoyed visiting San Lorenzo.

"Charles, Adam and the team have obviously worked diligently to create and maintain a safe and comfortable setting and it’s great to see so many guests here embracing the additional measures and supporting a business."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak presented his Plan for Jobs to Parliament on July 8 to outline how the Government will boost job creation in the UK, with a particular reference to the country's hospitality industry.

The first measure has been to cut VAT on restaurant food, accommodation and attractions from 20 per cent to five per cent for the next six months.

The second measure announced by the government is the Eat Out to Help Out discount scheme.

Throughout August, from Monday to Wednesday, guests will receive 50 per cent off, up to a maximum of £10 per person, including children.

Mr Carter said: “This will provide restaurants that have invested in making premises safe and are operating at a reduced capacity, with an increased demand for reservations.

“It’s a creative initiative that provides you with a great opportunity to enjoy a discounted meal, whilst also supporting Warrington jobs.”

A town centre financial services company believes the global financial crisis posed a bigger challenge than the current one caused by coronavirus.

Knight Corporate Finance, which is based on Bold Street, continued operating remotely during the lockdown in what was a busy period.

Ajay Shah, marketing and business development manager, said: “The business carried on, functioning pretty much at full capacity.

“All the staff were kept on, there was nobody furloughed. We have come out if quite well actually. For us as a business deals are still being done, we are as busy as we’ve ever been."

The business – which advises companies on areas including strategy, funding and acquisitions – expects measures such as meeting virtually and home working to become more common in the future as traditional methods are reconsidered.

Ajay said: “I still don’t think there is an exact replacement for face-to-face meetings.

“But I think there is going to be a bit more thought going into it, rather than spending half of a day travelling to a meeting when it can just be done over a video call. I think that’s going to be the case.

“There is nothing set in stone but I think there will be a staggered return to the office and even when that is returned we will continue to have an element of working from home.”

Meanwhile, Ajay discussed the comparisons between the impact of the financial crash in 2008 and Covid-19.

He added: “For us, the financial crash was probably a bit bigger (a challenge).

“That was something bubbling and occurred slowly, it was a long time in the making whereas this has been quite sudden.

"Hopefully, the feeling is there is going to be a faster pick up again."