Coronavirus: Lockdown 'blessing' for women setting up business

By Alex Jennings
BBC News

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Media caption,
Vivienne Jade Read started a new catering business during the coronavirus pandemic

Lockdown has been a "blessing in disguise" for Vivienne Jade Read.

Struggling to balance childcare and her work as an insurance consultant during the Covid restrictions, she decided to set up her own catering company.

Vivienne is one of a growing number of women who have been spurred on to start their own businesses following lockdown, according to an organisation that supports firms in Wales.

Now there are calls for more support to be given to help other women.

For the 26-year-old from Newport, working from home while looking after her two-year-old son proved to be "impossible" - but she said it gave her the push she needed to follow her dream to work for herself.

Image source, Vivienne Jade Read
Image caption,
Vivienne was able to save money during lockdown to set up her own business

"I needed to take a decision whether I wanted to stay where I was or whether I wanted to take a plunge, or leap of faith," Vivienne said.

She described lockdown as a "blessing in disguise" as the money she saved from not paying for childcare allowed her to buy a static van to run her catering company from.

Image source, Vivienne Jade Read
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Vivienne is now able to pay for her son to go to nursery full time

Her new business has given her independence and she said it has allowed her to pay for full-time nursery for her young son.

She added: "Obviously work and home life is a lot more stable - I'm not relying on just a part-time wage.

"It's been really busy down here as well, so I'm just really positive about it."

Business in Focus, which delivers several business support services in Wales, said the pandemic had led to people reflecting on their lifestyles and wanting a better balance in life.

It claimed it had seen a "massive increase" in women coming to it for business advice in August compared to the same time last year.

'I can do what I want, when I want'

Image source, Melaina Barry
Image caption,
Melaina Barry was worried about returning to long hours working in a restaurant

Melaina Barry, 30, from Newport said uncertainty around whether she would find a job after taking time off to have her baby was one of the reasons she started her online baby clothing business two weeks ago.

"I just thought, if I start looking for a job and I can't find anything, this will be a back-up for me and something that could potentially bring in a lot of income," she said.

Melaina left her job as a restaurant manager before the coronavirus pandemic as she was concerned about how she would manage looking after her six-month-old son Hadley and working 12-hour-long shifts.

"I know how time-consuming it can be. And being a manager you've got to cover those shifts if there is sickness, you've got to be there all the time," she said.

Melaina used her pension savings to set up her business and said it would give her more flexibility with her time.

"With this business I can just do what I want, when I want."

'Pushed to the brink'

A report by the Wales Governance Centre think tank suggested that women may have been more exposed to loss of employment and earnings during the Covid-19 crisis, with 18% of female employees working in shutdown sectors, compared to 14% of male employees.

The Women's Equality Network Wales said many women had been "pushed to the brink by the Covid-19 pandemic", with some finding both their incomes and their childcare reducing and finding it impossible to go to work as they take on increasing caring responsibilities.

Director Catherine Fookes said: "Those women with resources have been able to start the business idea they have always been thinking of and some of them are reaping the benefits.

"But what about those women who don't have the resources to start their own business?"

The campaign group has said childcare must be in place so that women can return to work or that there must be innovative ways of supporting women via loans, mentoring or training.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said it published a Framework for Supporting Entrepreneurial Women in Wales and Good Practice Guide last year.

In response, a Business Wales Action Plan was created, which included recommendations like providing more gender-focused business support and improved availability of finance options.

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