London boating business sets sail again following coronavirus closure


A London outdoor leisure business, which runs public boat hire in parks across the capital, has been able to reopen with support from Clydesdale Bank, owned by Virgin Money.

BlueBird Boats saw its revenue drop to zero overnight when lockdown was announced in March, closing its sites in Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, Battersea Park, Dulwich Park, Southwark Park and Barking Park indefinitely.

However, with support from Clydesdale Bank and a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS), the business has resumed operations, welcoming back staff and customers for the first time in 15 weeks.

CBILS is a UK Government initiative facilitated by participating banks to provide financial support to SMEs that are losing revenue, and seeing their cashflow disrupted, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.  Under the scheme, existing Clydesdale Bank business customers can borrow £10,000 to £5 million.

Peter Scott, Director at BlueBird Boats, said: “Being an outdoor leisure provider, the start of our peak season should have been in March. Instead we watched our revenue drop instantly with the introduction of lockdown. But with assistance from Clydesdale Bank, the CBILS and the Furlough Scheme we were able to retain all of our workforce and provide a 20% top up on their wages so they were unaffected during this time. Without this support we wouldn’t have been able to reopen.”

BlueBird Boats has 10 full time members of staff, with 25 seasonal staff employed during its peak season of March to September, and can welcome up to 3,000 visitors a day across its sites.

Peter said: “The Bank understands that we are a seasonal trends business and they have wanted to help us, which is refreshing. Our Relationship Manager, David Lyons, met and exceeded our expectations as he has been very reliable and delivered on what he promised he would.”

Peter notes that there are more challenges ahead, as although the business has reopened, a lack of trade is expected for some time. It has also had to adapt how it operates, make adjustments to opening times and give staff more flexibility around travel arrangements etc.

He said: “We reopened a few weeks ago and are running at half the capacity. People are desperate to be outdoors, but it’s only a local market as there are no international tourists in London at the moment.”

David Lyons, Relationship Manager at Clydesdale Bank, said: “We are committed to supporting SMEs through this pandemic. The impact on outdoor leisure businesses has been devastating, with the immediate loss of all revenue and also the challenges that reopening present.

“It’s great to see BlueBirds Boats back in operation – the team has been working hard to make all the necessary changes for the safety of their customers and employees, ensuring they can enjoy their time in the parks.”