We have drunk in the last chance saloon – Ludlow must and will survive the #coronavirus crisis

One business owner stood in tears in front of me. Twenty years of building a business and we look like being wiped out overnight, she said.

It had been a day of generous offers. People saying they would help each other and support essential services.

It had been a day of concern. Not just about keeping businesses going but also essential services like buses. And the day ended in virtual lockdown for our town and for society.

My body temperature is normal but my mind is in a fever wondering how our town will come out of this unprecedented crisis. We must and we will.

I spent yesterday talking to Ludlow business owners and market traders. Sounding out what they are thinking. What their plans are. How we can help each other. I was asked to visit a business in the evening to discuss an offer of accommodation for essential workers. It was the second offer that day. I caught the last bus into town and by the time I arrived the grim news was out. The prime minister had called last orders.

Cafes, pubs and restaurants must close from last night – except for takeaway food. All nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres must lock their doors. In a stroke of the prime ministerial pen, social lives were brought to an end for millions of people. In just a few words, businesses were told to stare ruin in the face.

Insurers are being tight fisted and the underwriters are saying that Covid-19 is not covered by most business interruption policies. Financial compensation is being offered by ministers but it will only cover the basics. Many independent businesses will face cash flow problems while they wait for Whitehall and councils to process claims and pay out.

Politicians can’t compensate for the disruption to the social fabric of our community. For the social isolation. For what may a permanent change in the way engage with each other. For the new normal, whatever that might look like.

A time of crisis often brings out the best in people. Yesterday, two hospitality businesses in the town centre made an offer of free rooms for any essential workers drafted in to help with the crisis. At least one other is offering free take away meals for those in need. People are calling on neighbours. Facebook groups are being set up, among them Pulling Together Ludlow which aims to share information on volunteers willing to help Ludlow and its rural community.  

The Let’s Go Ludlow Facebook page is keeping track of what is open and what services are being offered. Many businesses will now deliver without charge.

For the time being buses are running. The 435 Ludlow to Shrewsbury service via Craven Arms and Church Stretton will run on the Saturday timetable six days a week. Town buses are running as normal. That could change and I will keep people up to date.

I am firing off memos on bus subsidies to ensure that we can keep services going. Bus subsidies are largely based on passenger numbers. No passengers, no subsidy. After discussions with the bus companies, I am asking for Shropshire Council to pay the budgeted subsidy regardless of actual passenger numbers.

I have asked Shropshire Council to suspend its penalty charge notice regime, parking tickets to you and me, except for vehicles parked dangerously or parked illegally in disabled bays.

It is not clear what compensation will be available for self-employed market traders. I am asking Ludlow Town Council to halve the rent for market pitches for the duration of the emergency. The emergency town council meeting on Monday has been cancelled due to the emergency.

Keep safe. Keep well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from neighbours and friends. It may be a while before we raise a glass together again but that day will come.

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