THE coronavirus crisis has hit businesses across the county hard, with many business owners fearing for the future of their firms.

In spite of this, the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce has been helping businesses get through the worst of the damage.

Measures introduced to help businesses include the Chamber’s Business Support Hub, which allows business owners to access help and support to restart and recover.

It also makes use of online tools including the Finance Finder to get quick answers about eligibility for government schemes.

Sharon Smith, chief executive of the Chamber, said: "It (the lockdown) is unprecedented. I can't remember a time in the last 25 years where there has been anything like this.

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"The closest I can remember would be the last recession. Just like with that, I think the effects of this crisis could be felt for years to come.

"As part of our response to the crisis we have been doing things in stages. The first initial response stage, then the restart, then the recovery."

The Chamber has been supporting businesses through the crisis with regular advice and update sessions, as well as launching the business hub.

Mrs Smith added: "Our most popular webinar was to explain the furlough scheme to businesses, helping them to really understand in depth what it meant.

"It is okay getting just the headlines from the government's daily briefings, but there is so much to consider from an HR point of view, that businesses need so much more detail to plan properly."

One of the most important functions of the Chamber of Commerce, during a pandemic or not, is regularly keeping businesses up to date with the latest developments.

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This is a two-way function however, as the Chamber regularly uses this to find out how businesses are coping and what their concerns are.

Between March and May, the Chamber held conversations with approximately 1,400 businesses, finding they have adapted quickly to working from home and changing their operating procedures.

51 per cent of those businesses said lack of sales was the most important issue while 44 per cent said cashflow was the biggest issue.

Mrs Smith was cautiously optimistic about the future of business in the two counties, stressing that there is still more work to be done to allow businesses to thrive again.

She said: "The government, local authorities and LEPs will be crucial in helping businesses survive. We are getting back to normality, but there are still some big challenges ahead for businesses."