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Lewisham unveils landmark study to support local BAME-owned businesses through COVID recovery

Lewisham Council has launched the results of a ground-breaking census of its high streets to tackle inequalities and rebuild the local, post-COVID economy.

Cllr Powell is standing in between two Black female shop owners

Lewisham Council has launched the results of a ground-breaking census of its high streets to tackle inequalities and rebuild the local, post-COVID economy.

Recovery in the retail sector is considered fragile. The Council commissioned this first-of-its-kind study to understand and address the unique challenges local retailers face as they emerge from the pandemic – with an

emphasis on identifying any disparities for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic business owners.

The independent survey was conducted by London South Bank University earlier this year across 10 of the busiest high streets in the borough, including Catford, Deptford and New Cross.

Some of the key findings reveal:

70% of businesses on Lewisham’s high streets are independent. These businesses told us they want to be more self-sufficient. In response, the council will offer a range of practical support to empower them to strengthen their businesses, from free courses in bookkeeping to building local networks.

Two thirds of the independent shops and services on the borough’s high streets are owned by Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) entrepreneurs. Mistrust of authorities is a common issue and has led to poor uptake of Council-led business support. We are addressing this through increased face-to-face engagement, developing local peer-led initiatives and partnering with trusted business networks. We will be offering discounts on Federation of Small Businesses memberships for BAME retailers.

Local retailers need an increase in footfall. Our high street business owners have told us they rely on in-person sales to bolster revenues but footfall levels are still perceived to be lower than they were pre-pandemic. We are implementing a series of environmental improvements to make town centres more appealing places to visit, alongside running initiatives such as the ongoing Shop Safe Shop Local campaign to actively encourage residents to support their local businesses.

Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, said:
“We are the first borough in the country to run this kind of census, to help us to better understand, champion and support the amazing diversity of our high streets. We know the pandemic has been seriously tough for our business owners, and even more so for those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“As we plan for recovery, our high street businesses will be crucial in rebuilding the borough’s economy and creating local jobs for local people.

“One of the most stark findings is that generally, BAME-owned businesses on the high street are less likely to access things like business networks and council services. This insight will help us to shape our services and our approach to make them more accessible to these important businesses that serve our communities and play such a vital role in Lewisham’s economy.”

Cllr Kim Powell, Cabinet Member for Business and Community Wealth Building, said:

“The disproportionate deaths due to COVID-19 among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities shone a spotlight on the systemic inequalities they experience in all areas of their lives. That includes businesses. As a council, we are committed to tackling inequalities to ensure everybody has the opportunity to succeed.

“We already offer a robust programme of support for local businesses but the findings of this study mean we can be even more targeted in the types of support we offer. This is about ensuring we are giving all our entrepreneurs the tools to succeed, regardless of their ethnicity or background.”

Dr Charles Graham, Associate Professor in Marketing London South Bank University, said:

“London South Bank University Business School is delighted to have been involved in this ground-breaking project for Lewisham Council. The study offered our students a valuable opportunity to apply their learning in a critical business setting. In addition, it was a chance for the university to engage with the local community and contribute to the Council’s Covid-19 recovery plan for independent high street businesses.”

For the full findings of the report or to read the executive summary, please visit lewisham.gov.uk/HighStreetStudy

Cllr Kim Powell, Cabinet Member for Business and Community Wealth Building, introduces the report via a short film. You can watch the film here.

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