How this part-time teacher fell through the government's income support network for coronavirus

A part-time elementary school teacher and entrepreneur from Essex shared how the spirit of her local community and a visit to Instagram helped get her business back on track.

Heather Syrett, 28, from Leigh-on-Sea heads Leigh Calligraphy, which specializes in calligraphy design and workshops.

Her passion for the craft began in 2017 when she wanted to design her own wedding invitations, signage and table decorations, teaching herself the art of calligraphy through videos and books.

Heather Syrett heads Leigh Calligraphy, which specializes in calligraphy design and workshops

She soon got addicted and started her own classes to teach others, began exhibiting at craft festivals, and designing stationery for weddings.

After two successful years and an ever-increasing demand, Heather decided to take the plunge and work part time at the school she was working at in order to focus more on business in late 2019.

However, just months later, the coronavirus pandemic broke out and a nationwide lockdown occurred, which meant that their two largest sources of income – workshops and weddings – were put on hold.

& # 39; The coronavirus has had a huge impact on my business. I had to cancel all of the workshops, most of which were sold out, so I had to give a lot of refunds, ”she says.

“They are my main business income and I make about £ 1,000 a month on them. So it was very disadvantageous not being able to book appointments for later in the year.

“Fortunately, most of the attendees chose to save their tickets for a future workshop, but not knowing when to safely pick them up again was a weight on my shoulders.

Before the coronavirus, Heather led two-hour calligraphy workshops that were often sold out

Before the coronavirus, Heather led two-hour calligraphy workshops that were often sold out

"In addition, I had to take a break from all of my wedding orders – including invitations, place cards, and welcome signs for table plans – which is my second biggest income, especially during the spring and summer months."

That extra blow came under specific government regulations that banned large weddings and resulted in many being postponed or canceled altogether.

In the latest update, the government said that as of Sept. 28, only 15 people, including the couple, can "have a marriage or civil partnership where they can be safely housed with social distancing at a venue in Covid-19".

Heather also works with others in the wedding industry to put together styled shoots to provide ideas for those looking for inspiration for their big day. However, this has also stalled due to Covid.

Falling through the Covid support network

Heather is one of those who slipped through the web of government income support schemes.

She had recently cut her working hours as a full-time teacher and was unable to take advantage of any of the government's small business support programs.

Heather says: & # 39;Leigh calligraphy had grown so much in the first two years that I decided to cut my classes down to three days a week in September 2019, just months before Covid-19 hit.

"I was not eligible for grants or government support because my business income was less than 50 percent of my total income in the first two years of self-assessment for my company as I was teaching full-time."

I almost feel punished for taking a leap and spending more time working for myself

While her total income fell significantly when the statewide lockdown was imposed in March, Heather said she knows she is lucky as she was still receiving her apprenticeship salary and her husband was still working and the mortgage and other household bills were still covered .

She adds: 'It is It's a shame, however, that I fell through a gap in support that just cut my school hours, and I feel almost punished for taking a leap and putting more time into work for myself. & # 39;

Instagram: a support hub for SMEs

Leigh-on-Sea is a tightly knit town, says Heather, and has a network of small businesses and independent businesses, which means it has moved on and continued to grow after an initial setback.

“I'm so happy to have such a supportive community that already loves to shop small.

"We have some amazing local pop-up craft markets that I've featured my work in over the years so people already know me and follow me on social media."

Prior to the lockdown, Heather often featured her work at craft fairs and markets across Essex

Prior to the lockdown, Heather often featured her work at craft fairs and markets across Essex

Instagram was an important tool on Heather's entrepreneurial journey as it began as a platform for showcasing their new hobby before becoming a marketplace for customers to buy products and book workshops.

During the lockdown, when the nation was home and with nothing to do, some began making bread, crocheting, and others having strange and wonderful skills while others turned to calligraphy.

Heather adds, “There has been a lot of effort to support local small businesses with lots of people wanting to learn new skills at home and have more free time.

“So I set up an online recorded workshop where people would get their beginner calligraphy kit and worksheets in the mail and then watch the online video in their own time.

“They have lifelong access to the video so they can practice again at any time. I had quite a number of signups which was a great way for me to still make a small income.

“But without social media and followers sharing my page, I wouldn't have been able to market any of it. Instagram was a great small business hub during the lockdown. & # 39;

Personal touch and a positive outlook

The platform will also be central for Heather to showcase her new products which she spent her own time at home developing.

She spent a lot of time improving and learning new skills, as well as designing new wedding stationery, greeting cards, and Christmas products that she hopes will help make up for some of her losses as the Christmas season approaches.

Heather spent her time learning how to engrave items like fragrance bottles

Heather spent her time learning how to engrave items like fragrance bottles

"Customers who couldn't go shopping when the lockdown began turned to small businesses like mine for thoughtful birthday and anniversary gifts," she adds. “I have been fortunate to receive commissions on bespoke birthday cards and personalized calligraphy gifts.

"This on-site support immediately gave me the confidence to expand and develop my product range further, so my time at home was not wasted worrying about what might happen."

Heather also spent part of her lockdown learning how to do freehand electric calligraphy engravings on items like champagne and fragrance bottles.

She said, "This already opens doors to work with some exciting big companies, so this 'time out' should pay off in the future."

& # 39; My personalized Christmas range is already available on my website and Not On The High Street, and I have lots of new and exciting products this year.

"Orders for Christmas gifts are already coming in as I think people need something to look forward to after such a terrible year."

While the year was undoubtedly difficult – as it was for everyone around the world and for various reasons – Heather has remained positive and hopeful that things will eventually get back to "normal".

Leigh Calligraphy personalized gifts are available now at Not On The High Street

Leigh Calligraphy personalized gifts are available now at Not On The High Street

She says, “The unknown wasn't easy and it was terrible timing in terms of where my company is and where it is not possible to get government funding, but I am by no means worst of all .

"I remain confident that things will be back to the way they were and that people will soon be able to enjoy birthdays, weddings and other events with loved ones again."

Small Business Basics

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