The not-for-profit subsidiary of housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has deployed a series of wide-ranging measures to enable its commercial tenants to operate during the Covid-19 outbreak – and hopefully flourish afterwards.
Unity Enterprise (UE), which provides 142 affordable units for more than 80 businesses near Leeds city centre, was established two decades ago to support local entrepreneurial activity.
Alongside the challenges posed by social distancing, the organisation has been acutely aware of the financial vulnerability of many of its tenants which are mostly small businesses running on tight budgets.
UE Manager Adrian Green explained the immediate challenges and actions taken in the early days of lockdown.
“We launched a three-way partnership with Iota Business and Apple Box to offer swift support to UE tenants,” he said.
“This included details on available funding streams, initially shared via email and displayed in our centres.
“Shortly afterwards, we launched a website carrying emerging details of the Government’s Small Business Rate Relief grant, Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
“One-to-one Zoom meetings were set up to enable tenants to seek bespoke advice and, so far, more than 50 UE tenants have received grants with our support.”
Adrian said that arrangements were also made to allow tenants safe access to UE premises.
“Our centres have remained open throughout the lockdown, with more than 20 tenants working there at various times,” he explained.
“The buildings have been subject to a deep clean, we have wall-mounted hand sanitiser stations at every entrance to every building and a screen at our main reception at Unity Business Centre, which also has a one-way system.
“Signs and fixed-floor graphics encouraging two-metre social distancing have been placed around all buildings.
“We have limited the lifts to one person at a time, toilets are restricted to two people maximum, hand dryers have been replaced by paper towels and all bins are now foot-pedal operated.
“And all health and safety checks – including tests on fire doors, drinking water, fire alarms, emergency lighting and lifts – have continued, with UE staff given personal protective equipment sourced from one of our own tenants.”
Corinne Lapierre, who runs her own business which makes high quality craft kits and textile accessories, initially halted production at Unity Business Centre and furloughed staff when the Government’s lockdown restrictions were announced.
“However, within a few weeks it became obvious that I should reopen as customers kept asking for my kits,” she said,
“I was rather worried about coming back to the centre while we were still in lockdown. It was so reassuring to see that Adrian was there, coming in every day to accept our deliveries and putting new measures in place for our safety.”
Corinne added: “I have been able to talk to Adrian about ideas to welcome my team back in a safe way and, again, I have received very patient and practical advice. I could not be happier and more grateful for how things are at Unity Business Centre.”
Unity Homes and Enterprise Chief Executive Ali Akbor OBE, who established UE in 2000 – shortly after taking the helm at the BME-led housing association – praised the efforts of Adrian and his team, together with partners Iota Business and Apple Box.
He continued: “Unity’s ethos is that the revitalisation of communities is not just about providing high quality affordable homes, but also stimulating social and economic regeneration, improving life opportunities and addressing inequalities within sustainable neighbourhoods.
“Everything that UE does is geared towards helping commercial tenants achieve a positive economic and social impact for the benefit of local people, businesses and communities.
“We need their excellent work to continue and, to that end, we will do all we can to help these enterprises survive the economic tsunami caused by Covid-19 and prosper when the storm has passed.”