A New Normal: Business

Bouncing Back

TCP looks at how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted local organisations

Selby Amateur Boxing Club manager, Neves Mabu with assistant manager, Lucy Matthews

By Klaudia Kiss and Luchia Robinson

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, the word ‘furlough’ has become synonymous with the temporary and permanent closure of businesses, time off work, a complete shift in routines, perspectives and ways of living – a social change unlike previously known.

There have been many economic challenges, with several businesses and organisations across Tottenham having to fight to keep operating. The Engine Room, in Hale Village, being one of them.

The community centre, which is run by St Francis Church of England, is slowly returning to a new sense of normal. It reopened last month after temporarily ceasing most of its services in March.

The Engine Room team are finding this to be a gradual restart, following their recent experience of being furloughed.

Andrew Johnston, Director of Operations said: “We’ve definitely made use of the furlough scheme. All our staff went on furlough with the exception of the priest. We’ve also had the business grant from Haringey Council, which really has helped keep us afloat.

Youth worker, Obi Onyido reflects on how being furloughed has affected some of the team: “There’s been that aspect of things, in terms of people trying to manage finances and family lives.

“There has also been the mental health aspect − but what’s been great with the Engine Room, is that we’ve been able to keep in contact via text and phone calls and just talk to each other, offering some support.”

Andrew Johnston, Director of Operations, The Engine Room

Andrew personally feels that the end of
the furlough scheme is a frightening point
to reach, and he says that taking a cautious
approach to finances has been essential in
ensuring they’re in as healthy a financial
position as possible.

He said: “People who work long hours on modest wages in community facilities are very vulnerable at this time and as we approach the winter and the end of the furlough scheme (which could create a perfect storm), we need to act very carefully − with love, and with understanding. We need to lobby energetically, so that local government fully appreciate the immense contribution and value of community organisations.

“The community centres in Haringey have been really badly hit. A couple have had to do emergency appeals which have been brilliantly supported, such as Living Under One Sun and the Lordship Rec Hub.

“I think the council really needs to think seriously about these key community assets, and how they’re supported. As community centres, there’s some learning to share in terms of how we can best operate.”

Over at the Selby Amateur Boxing Club, in White Hart Lane, club manager, Neves Mabu, and assistant manager, Lucy Matthews, describe the impact the Covid-19 lockdown had on the club.

“Closing the club was one of the hardest things that we had to do,” said Lucy.

“We just wanted to write a statement, stick it on the door and run away because we just knew that so many people would be so upset.

“For a lot of people, the [boxing club] is their community, it’s their family. It was super tough. The guys had just started coming in for the seven o’clock session, and we had to turn them away. The first question was, ‘why are we closing?’ and then ‘when can you open again?’ We couldn’t give them answers to that, so it was really difficult.”

The boxing club, based at the Selby Centre N17, provides classes for everyone from the age of five upwards. This includes sessions for teenagers and for girls and women-only; they also have competitive boxers in their ranks.

The club was able to secure £7,500 from National Lottery funding via the Sports England Emergency Fund, but also had to come up with alternative ways of both continuing its activities, and helping keep members in touch with one another.

The furlough scheme did not fit with the club’s model, as the boxing coaches were able to deliver their classes online.

Neves said: “Zoom is our new saviour. [We’ve done three online] classes per day since March and we’ve gained a lot of new members.”

The move online has enabled Selby Amateur Boxing Club to gain international attention, with fans from as far as Australia, Brazil and Portugal taking part in the free, long-distance sessions.

A lot of planning and organisation was required before the club could physically reopen, in order to ensure the safety of their members.

Lucy said: “We’ve been providing assurance to members so that they feel comfortable to come back. We’ve been communicating what we’ve been doing in terms of the planning, but also mentoring and being supportive to people as well, for the emotional side of actually coming back. A lot of people have felt super anxious during this time, about maybe losing a bit of confidence or feeling that they put on a bit of weight. So, [we’ve been dealing with] issues like these, to make people feel good about coming back.

“When we did finally open the doors, it was basically like crowd control, making sure people stay two metres apart.”

Neves adds: “People were excited to see each other again. […] Our club is not a club. Our club is family. We always talk with each other and support each other. I believe we have more than just members.”

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