A recipe for recovery: the new campaign to boost small businesses

16 March 2022

Barclays has launched a nationwide campaign to help small businesses through the financial and mental challenges they face emerging from the pandemic. Nisha Katona, founder and CEO of Mowgli Street Food, joins Barclays’ Head of Business Banking, Hannah Bernard, to share her experiences, offer her advice on “business health” – and find out how the bank is supporting SMEs.

As the CEO of Mowgli Street Food, Nisha Katona built her business from a single site in Liverpool to a chain of 18 restaurants with 700 members of staff. When the pandemic hit in 2020, hospitality and leisure businesses were among the hardest hit. Her restaurants were forced to temporarily close, something she says had a huge impact on the mental health of her team.

Katona took advantage of the furlough scheme, but with her staff suddenly “unmoored and cut loose”, a real challenge was “how to keep their morale high”.

Research conducted for Barclays shows that over a quarter of SME bosses say their own mental wellbeing has declined through the pandemic, with a similar proportion of respondents admitting they feel anxious or worried about the debt they’ve taken on over the last two years.

You need someone who can give you a realistic assessment of your business model whilst really listening to you and nurturing your business and ideas.

Nisha Katona MBE

CEO, Mowgli Street Food restaurants

A portrait of Nisha Katona.

Nisha Katona MBE, CEO of Mowgli Street Food restaurants.

Since the start of the pandemic many businesses have had to borrow for the first time, according to Barclays’ Hannah Bernard. “The stress of repayments and having to suddenly start to think about how they're going to manage that debt going forward can lead to additional mental stress and anxiety,” she explains.

To help address this, Barclays has committed to hosting 600 business health masterclasses. Over 1,000 relationship managers around the country are taking part in local clinics, backing up a wide range of events and resources delivered though the Business Health Hub, powered by Barclays Eagle Labs. The classes are open to all small business owners, with national events focused on the hospitality and care home sectors.

“We’re also going to be more than doubling the size of our teams that support businesses in financial difficulty and help them get back on the right path,” says Bernard. “We’ll be increasing funding for some of our charitable partners who’ve helped businesses going through difficult times, and supporting owners with their mental health.”

“A brilliant way to build a business”

Katona left her two-decade career as a barrister to start a new life as an entrepreneur. Eight years later, she is a regular face on television and serves on the Hospitality Council – a team of industry experts assembled to help England’s hospitality sector to thrive. But, of course, growing a successful business like Mowgli Street Food is likely to take support.

“There’s no shame in having debt,” Katona reminds other business owners. “Most businesses have debt, whether to help with unexpected events or to facilitate growth. You are growing because you want to employ more people, pay more taxes and support your community – as long as you take on a serviceable amount of debt responsibly.”

A trusted support network is vital for any small business owner who is coping with financial challenges, adds the newly installed Great British Menu judge. “The first thing to do if you’re worried about your finances is to go and get help,” she explains. “Speak to friends and family. Your bank may also have advice – look for a bank and a relationship manager that has a passion for business and entrepreneurialism. It’s so important to have a sounding board. You need someone who can give you a realistic assessment of your business model whilst really listening to you and nurturing your business and ideas.”

A portrait of Hannah Bernard.

Hannah Bernard, Head of Business Banking at Barclays.

Our number one priority is to help businesses to not just recover from the pandemic, but to make a solid growth plan for the future.

Hannah Bernard

Head of Business Banking, Barclays

Whether it’s giving her customers good food, helping local charities through The Mowgli Trust or supporting her team’s emotional needs during the pandemic, Katona says every decision she makes is based around “enriching the life of the city we’re in”.

Beyond day-to-day business at her restaurants, she sends between 40 and 60 members of her team to India every year. “They do things like working in Assam to build elephant enclosures, or going to villages and seeing the effect of leaving the light on in a restaurant in London – what that does to the environment and how it can diminish the amount of crops. They see those details and come back forever changed.”

So, what keeps Katona motivated? “I do it for my people,” she says. “That’s a brilliant way to build a business – never forget that people are not just employees. They become like family.”

That family is expanding, with more restaurants set to open in the UK this year. After that, her recipe for success could go international, with hopes for new sites from Berlin to the US. “I have a real passion for the world,” Katona adds.

Bernard sees the bank, which facilitated over £13bn in lending to small businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, as “a partner” for this growth. “Everyone at Barclays is incredibly passionate about supporting small businesses, the length and breadth of the UK. Our number one priority is to help businesses to not just recover from the pandemic, but to make a solid growth plan for the future,” she says.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge, but we hope the steps we’ve taken to provide hundreds of expert masterclasses and hire additional colleagues will make a real difference.”