A Derby businesswoman and head of service at Derby City Council has been giving up her time throughout the coronavirus pandemic to provide vitally needed help and support to BAME businesses across the city.
Ann Bhatti, head of the Connect Derby managed workspace scheme, has been volunteering her time at evenings and weekends to help members of the local Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community access financial help and support, during the first lockdown and now during the current wave of coronavirus restrictions.
Over the last eight months Ann has organised a series of socially distanced face-to-face meetings to help local businesses access the government’s £10,000 Small Business relief grant and signpost them to a range of other help and support available via Derby City Council and organisations such as D2N2.
When the first lockdown started, Ann’s Mum, who is active in her local community, mentioned that a lot of local businesses were scared about what was happening and asked if she would talk to them.
A meeting was arranged at a local venue. Ann took information from the government website about the schemes that were going to be available to local businesses and talked it through in both English and Mirpuri. When the grant schemes were launched, she emailed the relevant information over. Some businesses were still struggling, mainly with language barriers or lack of IT skills, so Ann staged workshop sessions on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
She helped them complete the relevant forms, took copies of documentation such as tenancy agreements and utility bills, helped them complete online forms for the Valuation Office and sent it over to the business rates team at Derby City Council.
As each business got its problems resolved, word spread, and other businesses started attending the sessions. Some businesses waited four hours to be seen, showing how desperate their situation was.
To date, Ann has supported 17 local businesses based in and around the Normanton and Peartree areas of Derby where she grew up. During lockdown 2.0 she emailed them details of the new grant schemes and asked anyone who is struggling to ask her for help.
The Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) was introduced by the Chancellor in March to support small and rural businesses in England with their business costs during the pandemic.
Research suggests that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are two to three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than other ethnicities. With many BAME businesses having a significant client base in those communities, these businesses have faced additional economic pressures.
Commenting on providing support to BAME communities, Ann said: “During the first lockdown, it was reported that BAME-led businesses were struggling to apply for government grant schemes due to language barriers and their lack of understanding of business management. Many had not correctly registered with the business rates team or were struggling to prove they had been operating before 11 March 2020.
“I am always keen to give back to my local community, so when I heard that many BAME businesses were struggling, I was keen to do my bit to help.
“In many cases, businesses simply needed guiding through the application process, which I’ve been able to help them by staging a series of socially distanced meetings in the community. I’ve also advised many more businesses by Zoom or Skype and signposted them to other organisations in the city.”
Councillor Mick Barker, Cabinet Member for Governance and Licensing, added: “Throughout the Covid pandemic I am aware of many selfless acts of assistance from both members of the public and by officers of Derby City Council.
“Ann Bhatti is a shining example of that freely given assistance in recognising the confusion that can result from legislative and bureaucratic procedures required to access funding and grants during these times.
“It’s great to know that many have gained good advice and benefit from Ann’s assistance. Ann is a daily exemplar for the spirit of this City Council in its service to all residents of Derby whenever help is needed.”
Commenting on the help they have received, Shajhan Pervaiz, owner of Dessert Hub, said: “My grant was delayed due to many factors. When I heard of Ann coming to help anyone in the area in a similar situation, I took advantage of this opportunity and went at once.
“She was extremely professional and polite, giving endless hours to a queue of business owners like myself and in return asked for nothing. Well done to Ann Bhatti – she is an awesome individual who cares about the minority which goes a long way for us all.”
Mohammed Shakiel, owner of Spice Fusion Derby Limited, added: “Miss Bhatti went out of her way to help me at this difficult time. I cannot thank her enough. In my humble opinion Miss Bhatti is a true gem and deserves great applause for helping small businesses.”
Yatunde Konteh, owner of Beauty Island, added: “I found it really hard to get through the grant application because I wasn’t aware that certain things needed to be put in place before I could apply.
“I am so grateful to meet Ann Bhatti from Connect Derby who came to my rescue. Ann helped me fill in the application form so I could get my grant. Ann spent days coming to help me out. If not for the sacrifice Ann made by leaving her own things just to come and help me and the others as English is not our first language, I wouldn’t have been able to get the grant.”