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Finding community in a crisis


“The bushfires and COVID-19 have made us realise we need to look after our communities because there are so many people who are doing it tough,” Kate Inglish.


Kate Inglish - Founder and owner, Kate Inglish Designs.

The first few months of 2020 were among the hardest ever for ANZ customer Kate Inglish.


After a slower than normal pre-Christmas trading period, devastating bushfires hit much of Australia, including the coastal town of Nowra, New South Wales, Kate’s home.


Locals and holiday makers alike evacuated the town in what would normally be the most profitable months for small businesses in the area. And Kate’s boutique baby shop Kate Inglish Designs was forced to close.


“A lot of places were quiet in the lead up to Christmas last year. So, we were relying on holiday traffic and Christmas. And that just didn't happen.


“Obviously people came and then had to evacuate and people were just too scared to come down. Even locals were scared to come out because of the fire. The smell and everything was just too traumatic,” Kate says.


But of course, the bushfires weren’t the only crisis 2020 had in store.

COVID has enabled Kate Inglish designs to find its fee online, as well as in-store.


COVID-19 business closures came as another blow to Kate and the wider-South coast community. Kate describes the feeling in the community when shops began shutting their doors for the second time in just a few months.


“I shut the shop doors and thought, when am I going to open again? Am I going to be able to open? It’s definitely been a hard one,” she says.


“We had so many businesses shut within the first week of COVID. It's been really hard to watch all these businesses shutting down and never reopening again.”


But while the reality of 2020 has brought some of the biggest challenges yet for small business owners, Kate says the closure period also gave her the time and space to reset her goals and rebuild her website.


“I was going to get it done, I just didn't have a set timeframe. But then I had the shop shut for just over two weeks, so I had that time to break away and regain focus on the business and what I wanted to achieve.


“I definitely think if I didn't have two weeks of shut down time, I wouldn’t have my new logo or the new website.”


A strong sense of community has always been a defining feature of small Australian towns, but Kate says support from across Australia via programs such as Empty Esky and Buy from the Bush has helped her through her toughest year yet.


Getting a plug


An appearance on national television also delivered the boost Kate needed, with Seven’s Sunrise Show plugging Kate Inglish Designs live on air after a call out for small businesses doing it tough.


Kate describes the experience as “surreal”.


“While I was making Vegemite toast for my kids my phone was ringing and everyone was saying ‘Kate you better watch the telly, you're on there!’ I’d made a video to Sam Mac from Sunrise saying ‘Hey, it’s my tenth year in business and I don’t want it to be my last’ and he played it.” Kate says.


“Then I jumped on my website and that had crashed because I had hundreds of people on there. And my phone was ringing, Instagram was going absolutely ballistic.


“So I did this really emotional video with not an ounce of makeup on, blubbering, saying thank you. And that afternoon he had put the video on his Instagram. That morning he'd shared it on national TV, with me crying! I was like this, isn't happening. Oh my gosh, this isn't happening. It was amazing,” she says.


Keeping it local


In the lead up to Christmas trading this year Kate says she’s noticed her customers, both local and further afield, supporting local traders.


“I think there's a lot more of a push for shopping local and supporting small business. After the bushfires people realised without people putting their whole livelihoods on the line to run small businesses, there won't be any communities left in small towns.


“The bushfires and COVID-19 made us realise we need to look after our communities because there are so many people who are doing it tough,” she says.


And with what looks to be a more hopeful holiday season ahead, Kate says she feels she can begin looking to the future again.


“My dream is to have two shops. With COVID, I don't think it's the right time just yet but I definitely would love to have two shops. A lot of my customers want me to open in Canberra so it's just finding the right place and the right staff,” she says.


“I can't see me not having the shop for many, many years to come. So I'll always be Kate, the lady in town with the baby shop.”



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