IN past years, February would be a time of quiet respite for businesses in Barry after a busy Christmas period. February half term would be on the horizon, providing a short spike in retail and food revenue.

But 2021 is not like most years. Shops and cafes in Barry are closed, with no definite reopening date in sight.

For many, this month is the twelfth month of unstable trading. While the trading year in the area usually peaks and lulls through the seasons, the last year saw slow business during usually busy periods.

Welsh Government grants, designed to keep businesses trading during the pandemic, fall short of what many traders need.

Debbie Burton, 51, owns Aspirations UK on Broad Street. She said: “The Welsh Government are not giving us enough support. There is no communication at all and that is the worst part– the not knowing. The funding I have received does not cover my bills for the business, or for my house.

“I feel lucky that I have such loyal customers, but the last year has been manic. I just hope we can open up soon. If this goes on into the summer, there is no way we are going to survive. I love my job and I don’t want to have to give it up.”

Like many businesses in Barry, Aspirations UK has struggled financially over the last year. Moving her business online to click and collect meant that Debbie lost her work-life balance, taking orders late into the evening.

The company moved premises in February 2020 and hoped to open in Easter after renovating their new unit. Instead, they did not welcome customers until July 3.

“I’m scared,” said Debbie, who specialises in French chic upcycling paint as well as gifts, “It has had an effect on me physically and mentally.”

Some financial support has been available for business through the Welsh Government, but it has been suggested that support and communication from the local council has not been sufficient.

Cllr Lis Burnett, deputy leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council and cabinet member for education and regeneration, said: “2020 has proven to be the most challenging of years, and Barry, along with all visitor destinations throughout the Vale and beyond, will have been devastated by the restrictions enforced due to Covid-19. Indicators show that up to October 2020 alone, tourism in Wales was showing a 62 per cent decline in value against the previous year, with the Vale in line with those figures. These are truly devastating figures for all visitor-facing business.

“However, Barry businesses are resilient, and we are hopeful that their resilience, together with the support that has been provided through Vale of Glamorgan Council and Welsh Government funding, will go some way to helping business through this very difficult time and that we see them emerge as restrictions allow.

“Research is showing that domestic tourism will be incredibly important during 2021/22 as confidence in travelling overseas will remain low for some time. Barry, and indeed the wider Vale, is perfectly placed to capitalise on this, and I know that resorts like Barry Island will be top of the list to visit once restrictions are lifted.”

Some businesses have been more fortunate than others. The government furlough scheme has enabled them to close completely throughout the pandemic, rather than having reduced trading through click and collect services.

Ruth Zeraschi, 51, owner of Mrs Marco’s Café, chose to close the business during lockdown due to concerns over the health of both staff and customers. Because her husband also works in the industry, running Marco’s Café on the beachfront, she was also concerned that they could both be vulnerable.

“I said from the start that it is health over wealth. I have a disabled daughter too - Marco's step daughter - who we do not want to put at risk,” she said.

Mrs Zeraschi said that as the business was seasonal, with busier summers helping to keep it going during quieter winters, it was in a better position than some to ride out the current lockdown – but only if the tourism sector was able to open up again in the summer.

“But next winter will be the test. That’s when businesses will potentially need help to survive, if restrictions continue through this year.”

She added: "But I won't give up on our cafe - even if I have to get a second job."

Lockdown restrictions in Wales will next be reviewed on February 19.