Jim Walsh, 52 and Harley Walsh, 23. Image credit: Supplied
Mechanic Jim Walsh has run the successful Highmains Garage in East Kilbride, Scotland, for more than 20 years.
But the pandemic hit him hard. As lockdowns confined everyone except essential workers to their homes, cars sat unused on driveways and garages. His loyal customer base, who had kept him busy for decades, suddenly didn’t need any work done.
Walsh went from managing a thriving local garage with one full-time staff member to a handful of jobs each week, something which sent him spiralling into anxiety.
“My sleeping pattern was getting terrible, I was constantly worried, I couldn’t concentrate,” Jim told The Big Issue.
“I had a lack of appetite and I could feel myself getting into a kind of mild depression.”
Jim, like others running small enterprises, was forced to spend thousands of his own money just to keep the business afloat after the lockdown.
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“It was getting to a stage where I thought I can’t keep going on like this, I can’t keep introducing my own money into the business. It was a massive worry,” Jim added.
The mechanic isn’t the only business owner struggling to survive during the Covid-19 crisis.
A study by researchers from King’s College London in October 2020 found that more than 60 per cent of small businesses in the UK were facing financial troubles during the pandemic, putting 16.6. million jobs at risk.
The 52-year-old has been in the trade his entire working life, starting out by helping his dad working on buses and trucks at the weekends, before working with rally cars all over Scotland and finally setting up his own garage.
But during the past 12 months, Jim explained it has been an uphill battle to even get himself into work, and admitted there was little fun left in the job he once loved so much.
“It came to a head a few weeks ago. I said I just can’t keep doing this anymore. Because I was worrying about it so much it wasn’t fun anymore,” he said.
“I really couldn’t face coming into the garage to do one job and then sitting in the place worrying about what was happening.”
Harley’s help didn’t end with the tweet either. She has since been on hand to reply to emails, social media messages, press requests and the flurry of motorists looking for quotes.
“I’ve been coming in twice a week to reply to messages and stuff. It’s been good trying to bring the garage into the 21st century,” the 23-year-old said.
“My mum messaged us one day asking to put another post on Instagram, reminding people Dad has a garage. In the last few months, we had done that and he got maybe one or two clients.
“But this time I took it to Twitter because the retweet button is just so easy. Within the first hour, there were a thousand people sharing it.”
The social media post was a last resort, and Harley said her Dad didn’t really want people knowing he needed help. Jim had applied for “so many grants”, but because pandemic rules allowed him to stay open, no support was available.
Millions of others who are self-employed or working as company directors have found themselves in a similar position.
Campaign group ExcludedUK, which was formed to support the three million people shut out from support, is calling on the chancellor to “fill the gaps” in support during his budget on March 3.
They have urged him not only to ease the strict qualifying rules for those who are self-employed but also to backdate payments for those who have fallen into hardship.
???? Highlights from the #ExcludedUK Pre Budget Event on Wednesday. Mr Sunak must surely be able to spare the two minutes to listen. The Chancellor would be doing the country a complete disservice if he ignores those left behind on March 3rd. It's time to bring us in from the cold. pic.twitter.com/vClGzcFhcz
Jim told The Big Issue he couldn’t express how grateful he was for the kindness of strangers at a time when many others were struggling.
“To see so many people that don’t even know me care, I just can’t thank them enough,” he added.
“I honestly have never experienced the feeling inside my stomach that I do for these people that I have never met before in my life. It’s magical. Magical.”
Jim understands he is one of the lucky ones, but for those who have been shut out of support for almost 12 months and haven’t been fortunate enough to have their business saved by a viral social media post, their eyes will be on the chancellor next week.
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