Coronavirus: 'Losing my job pushed me to set up a business'

By Lora Jones
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Jay LeeImage source, Jay Lee

"It's almost been a blessing in disguise. I was stuck in the same role for a number of years, but now I can work for myself and hopefully secure a better future for my family," says Jay Lee.

The 32-year-old from Surrey recently lost his job at a large UK bank as a mortgage adviser, where he also helped customers with fraud investigations.

"Even when the pandemic started getting more serious, we were told not to worry about our contracts. We were given full reassurance that our jobs were safe."

A couple of weeks into lockdown, a conference call was organised for the team who were all working from home.

Jay says that by the end of that day, 40 of them had been told they would lose their jobs.

New career move

Jay then decided to take the plunge and set up a business, uAcademy, which offers online courses for aspiring mortgage advisers.

"It's something I had been thinking about doing for a year or two, and this gave me a push to do it. I suddenly had a lot of free time, so I managed to set everything up and create the content in about two weeks."

The business has got off to a solid start, he says.

"There's a lot of interest in online learning at the moment. People want to learn new skills, maybe something to help them with a new career."

Media caption,

Four young people who set up businesses in lockdown

While he's now generating enough income to cover bills and expenses, Jay recognises he's in a fortunate position.

Of the 209 of his new students surveyed, Jay says that most had been furloughed or made redundant due to the pandemic.

"Ideally, I hope that this is something I can take on for the future, which is great. But I do have really mixed feelings, and wish my colleagues weren't in this situation too."

As large parts of the economy have been shut down to battle Covid-19, many workers, like Jay, have been laid off.

More than 6.5 million jobs in total could be lost due to the economic fallout from the UK's coronavirus lockdown, one study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex suggests.

Millions of others at risk of redundancy have been furloughed, often on reduced pay, which is subsidised by the government.

Media caption,

'I'm vulnerable but have to go out and look for work'

Emma Timberlake from Thurrock was one of those workers.

When lockdown measures were introduced, her employer in the construction sector told her to stay at home. She is living with multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological condition which prevents the immune system from working properly.

She was furloughed, and later received a letter one day prior to the government's job retention scheme being extended. It said that she would be made redundant from her job as a sales administrator as of 30 June.

"I'm absolutely devastated that I've lost not just a job, but a family," Emma says.

"Colleagues that I would speak to on a daily basis have vanished from my life with one simple A4 piece of paper."

Emma is now applying for a range of different jobs, from supermarket work to van driver positions.

"To me, a job is a job and I'd rather sweep the streets than not be doing anything, but I do worry about who can guarantee my safety."

In the meantime, she has had to rely on volunteer services for food deliveries. But she's also contributing to them herself while isolating.

Image source, Emma Timberlake
Image caption,
During isolation Emma has received food deliveries by volunteers from her local authority in Essex

Over the past few weeks, she has taken part in a volunteer "buddy scheme", calling other people who are feeling lonely during lockdown.

"Obviously, I am very disappointed. I adored my job. But I know we're going to come out of this so strong. If you can keep a positive mindset, it gets so much better."

Image caption,
Olivia was set to start a graduate role in the aviation sector prior to lockdown

Olivia, 21, from Warwickshire is graduating from university this summer.

Having completed her studies in law, she had travelling plans and a graduate job lined up in the aviation sector in the coming months.

"I was so looking forward to starting, it was basically my dream to work with this particular company, utilising the degree I love," she says.

But in April, Olivia was told the company no longer had a graduate position for her. She says they cited a lack of funding, and uncertainty around how to train people online.

New research from The Prince's Trust suggests that Olivia isn't alone. In a survey of more than 1,000 young people, one in 10 said they have had the job or training they were about to start cancelled due to the impact of the coronavirus.

Olivia has decided to carry on with her studies as a result. She plans to start a master's degree in aviation law later in the year.

"I was incredibly disappointed, but believe that everything happens for a reason and a new door will be opened instead."

For now, she's working 45 hours a week picking and packing online orders for a retailer.

She says: "I'm trying to see this unfortunate circumstance as an opportunity to explore new paths. It's the perfect time to experiment."