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Yards still feeling effects of first lockdown — but some positive news *H&H Plus*

Insurance broker SEIB surveyed its commercial clients on the effects of the first lockdown. H&H goes through the results and speaks to equestrian centres to see how business was looking as the second lockdown came in

NEARLY 70% of equestrian centres surveyed on the effects of the coronavirus were still operating with limited or adapted services before the second lockdown – but there have also been positive effects.

Of 75 respondents, including riding schools and livery yards, over 95% said turnover was down on pre-lockdown levels, while some raised fears over the effect the return of business rates will have on yards already hit hard.

SEIB insurance brokers conducted the research to find out how customers’ business was, and what support it could offer them.

Respondents were asked if they had taken any measures to reduce costs; 48% turned the horses out for the duration of the first lockdown, while 16% sold horses. One respondent “got rid of all staff”, others “reduced my wages and “tightened my belt”.

SEIB digital marketing manager Katie Oswald said: “Many of our commercial customers are concerned for the future of their businesses. Plenty of yards have accessed support from the Government and charities, including the British Horse Society (BHS). But we have found plenty are unsure where to turn for help, whether that be financial support or advice.”

Just over 13% of respondents applied for the Government’s job retention scheme, the same number that had applied for charitable grants such as from the BHS hardship fund.

Almost half applied for business grants and 24% for government-backed loans or finance agreements. Over 33% had not applied for any of the above. And although only 12% had to make staff redundant, nearly 15% fear they will have to cut jobs in the next six months.

Asked what other government support could help, some praised the help they had already had, while others said there should be more funding, better clarification on restrictions and removal of restrictions altogether.

On a more positive note, 29% of respondents said interest in their services had increased since the first lockdown, while 36% said it had stayed the same.

One respondent wrote: “We think parents are trying to get their children into the countryside more; we have lots of new riders.”

Others reported positive effects of the first lockdown, including “better work-life balance”, more awareness of health and safety and better related measures, and “clients working better together”.

Coming together

Lucy Thomson, of Lavant House Stables in Chichester, told H&H that while she knows this has not been the case for all, she was not hit too hard by lockdown.

“We run a club, where clients pay a monthly sub,” she said. “Initially, a lot of them paid 25%, which I’d refund after lockdown, so I had something coming in.

“All my owners, livery clients, and staff have been fantastic, they really came together, and the Government was so generous. We got lots of help, like the rates relief and grant, and furlough; staffing is our biggest cost and that way, we didn’t feel we let them down.

“After lockdown, we were swamped; so much interest, we had to close our books.”

Wellington Riding, which operates a riding school as well as a competition centre and livery yard, agreed interest had rocketed since the first lockdown.

Manager David Sheerin told H&H Wellington had to furlough staff and make changes. Group lessons had to decrease from eight combinations to five, to fit with the “rule of six”, and the centre put prices up to compensate.

“It was a bit of a risk but clients have been loving the move to five people, and they get about 37% more of the instructor’s time so it was better value for money,” he said. “That was still a loss but we haven’t lost any clients.”

Wellington has also made plans to cover itself if, as feared, its popular junior residential camps cannot run next year, as it went into “survival mode”.

But Mr Sheerin agreed on the increased interest.

“We’ve got 496 people registered on our system waiting for assessment lessons,” he said. “I’m an optimist but the opportunity for the industry is massive.”

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