Supporting society during COVID-19

It is of course an often-used phrase – “these are unprecedented times”. But, when we take a moment to think about how almost every aspect of our lives has changed because of the COVID-19 virus, the description of “unprecedented” doesn’t really do it justice.

And whilst we have all been adapting to a new way of living and working, it is important to remember that the impact has of course been greater for some of us than others. This is true of businesses as well.

We caught up with the owner of a family run property business that owns serviced apartments and restaurants to discuss COVID-19, the support Cynergy Bank has provided, and the actions the company has taken to help its local communities.

"One of our businesses is a serviced apartment business. This is short term rentals so, someone coming to London for say one night to six months will rent an apartment from us. It is fair to say that Covid-19 has decimated that business. The bookings have of course just disappeared.

The serviced apartment business had 17 flats in it, and six more that were linked to it, so that was 23 flats, and suddenly there was no income.

We discussed what to do – and decided to take on social housing tenants. Whilst they pay less rent, and they require more management, we felt, as a family, as a business, that by taking on a housing benefit tenant, we would be alleviating a hostel bed that they were currently in, and therefore adding to the community and helping out.

We started letting a few of the apartments to social housing tenants, but that didn't feel like that was enough either. So, we had conversations within the family, and we decided that we were going to go one stage further and offer the accommodation to front line workers who were impacted by COVID-19. We saw from news reports that hospital workers wanted to isolate themselves from their family and continue to work. I just felt that that wasn't a situation that anyone should have to be in, and then, apparently, landlords weren't providing short-term tenancy agreements for these people. And, we were like, well, who cares about the tenancy agreement, let's provide it, but let's also provide it at negligible costs.

We have had fifteen different NHS workers over the last six weeks, and the cost to them is that of the utilities and the council tax.

There's a backstory to the whole process of this, in terms of why we've done it. I was in the army and my wife was a nurse in a High Dependency Unit, so if this had happened twenty years ago, we probably would have been doing something on the front-line. We already support our community and our family and friends, but it just wasn’t enough. Looking at everything that everyone was doing, how could I watch an NHS worker going to work and fighting the disease and worrying about going home to infect their loved ones and what would I tell my children and grandchildren I did during the pandemic?

We've also given a commercial unit that rents for around £130,000 a year to a charity, rent free. You know, they're feeding 500 people a day, cooking food, and they're making juices, and sending juices to NHS hospitals.

I expect it's not totally altruistic, because, could I have rented the flat? Could I rent the commercial unit, who knows? While we have been renting these properties, it's just taken time, but we were of the opinion that to respond to this, we all had to shoulder some responsibility, and we all had to take on some responsibility to be able to support and do something, and this is the way that me, my family and the business decided to help and support. It's a win-win.

Everyone has a role to play in supporting society. My tenants had just told me that they cannot pay their rent, and if they're not paying their rent, I can't pay people or the bank. When I approached Cynergy Bank about this, they gave me the breathing room that my other bank didn't really give me. Both banks have done the same thing in the end, but Cynergy were more reassuring and less demanding early on. Additionally, when Cynergy Bank's first proposal came out, and I wrote to the bank’s Chief Executive to say ‘look, that doesn't work for me'. So, we had a fifteen-minute conversation, and he said to me ‘we’ve realised that doesn't work, and we're going to find a better solution', and they have.

We would have acted in this way regardless of the support from Cynergy Bank – but their support for our business allows me to be more robust in what I've done. And that's the difference between a high-street bank and an agile bank that's trying to change things like Cynergy Bank."

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