Our Head of Community Chris Smith talks about the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our business and the positives he’ll be taking from 2020 through to the new year.
Q. How has the pandemic affected business so far?
A. When the pandemic hit in March we saw an immediate impact on our business financially. With the closure of schools across the UK, all 300 of our customers closed their doors, not only to education but also to their local community. Understandably the focus of schools shifted to delivering online, remote learning away from the classroom and how they would return to safe on-site teaching practices when allowed to do so.
We’re grateful to having been able to access the Government’s Job Retention Scheme throughout the pandemic, which has allowed us to react to the demands of the business, with a small proportion of our school partners planning a re-opening in time for the lifting of the first national lockdown. We started to bring back members of our lettings team towards the end of the summer to support these schools with their bookings, liaising with their hirers, producing risk assessments and cleaning protocol templates to ensure lettings restarted safely and in line with the Government guidelines.
There has been a sharp learning curve for us in adapting to new ways of working such as shifting a workforce of over 25 people to home working instead of the office. Although we had the technology and capability to do this, it has not come without its own challenges for individuals who have had to juggle home-schooling with childcare, a suitable space to work and finding a balance between time spent working and time ‘switching off’. Whilst home-working may become a preference for a number of our colleagues, some of our team are looking forward to a return to the office environment which offers space to come together, collaborate and contribute towards people’s mental well-being.
Q. What positives are you taking from 2020?
A. I have been struck by how positive our whole team has been during the last six months. Employees have pulled together, not only to enable us to secure new contracts, but to continue to deliver our unrivalled level of service to our long-standing partners and users.
We’re fortunate to be backed by a successful parent company, Kajima Partnerships Ltd, who have continued to support us throughout the pandemic, allowing us to continue to develop our online lettings software, BookingsPlus, and to introduce new schools to our BookingsGuru lettings administration and marketing service. Sadly, not all of our competitors have been as fortunate and 2020 saw the loss of major lettings provider, School Lettings Solutions. This has opened the door for a number of new, start-up businesses to enter the lettings market providing us with some great opportunities to create effective partnerships, as well bringing some potential new competition to the market.
In direct response to the pandemic we introduced a brand new feature to our BookingsPlus software, allowing customers the ability to alter VAT rates within their venue. This was implemented in anticipation that VAT rates may be set to change – although this hasn’t been the case thus far, it demonstrates that we are agile in reacting to our customers’ needs.
Q. What will your business do differently post COVID?
A. As mentioned, home-working will be on the agenda for 2021, in some form or another. We are a business keen to support our colleagues to have a good work/life balance and for some, this offers just that. I take the well-being of my team seriously and believe that a happy workforce makes for a successful and productive business.
We’re in the process of implementing a new customer account management system ensuring we are able to continue to offer a great experience to our customers regardless of the location of our team members, the demands on our resources and to enable business continuity whatever the challenge.
I have every confidence school lettings will return once again, when safe to do so and that this community activity will be more important than ever in bringing communities back together whilst helping schools generate much lost income during 2020.
To find out how our lettings solutions could help your venue, call our sales team today on 01604 677 764.