It took the coronavirus pandemic to turn Bora Kirgiz into an entrepreneur. He had already decided long hours as a taxi driver were not compatible with his new married life. Then the first lockdown killed the taxi trade and his cousin offered him a cheap commercial property to rent in Denton, a commuter town near Manchester in northern England.
He and wife Nalan fulfilled their dream of opening a café, Bona Couple Cafe & Lounge, shortly after the first lockdown ended.
“We cannot wait to open fully again on May 17,” he said. “I am very hopeful. We have good customers who really want to come here again.”
The couple are part of an unexpected consequence of the year-long pandemic: the strongest start-up boom in Britain in the past decade. Some who have struck out on their own have done so out of necessity after losing their jobs. Others, like 44-year-old Kirgiz, reassessed their priorities and set up their own business.
Business creation in the UK accelerated after the first reopening last summer. Low interest rates, plenty of government support and more people shopping online were all key drivers.
Denton has been in the vanguard, according to research firm the Local Data Company. The town has had the sharpest increase in independent businesses on high streets in Great Britain since the first lockdown in March, with 27 opening and 13 closing.
Bona Couple is just one of several new hospitality businesses breathing new life into a town still recovering from the closure of its factories making hats 30 years ago. Empty shops blighted the centre of Denton for years as banks, food shops and chain stores closed.
In second place is Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham, with Birkenhead near Liverpool and Bradford in West Yorkshire, all struggling post-industrial areas, also in the top 10 of the 1,200 high streets monitored.
Barbers are the most popular businesses, with 1,969 opening and 1,234 closing, a 5.1 per cent increase. Beauty salons, grocers and ice cream parlours are also common.
In the four quarters to the end of the first three months of 2021, there were more than 810,000 business incorporations in the UK, up 22 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to figures from Companies House.
The 221,000 companies incorporated in the third quarter of last year was the highest figure of the past decade, with the first three months of this year in second place, when there were more than 211,000 incorporations.
The trend has continued into the second quarter. According to weekly data published by the Office for National Statistics, the number of business incorporations in April was up 20 per cent compared with the same month in 2019.
The Interdepartmental Business Register, a government record of 2.7m companies, tells the same story. Its figures differ in definition and, for example, do not include small single-person limited companies or non-profit organisations, but the growth pattern is clear.
It recorded that in the first three months of this year, there were 137,000 new businesses across the UK, up 14 per cent compared with the previous quarter and the highest figure since quarterly records began in 2017.
This follows a 24 per cent annual increase in business creations in the last quarter of 2020, which “is contrary to expectations that business creation would be lower due to the coronavirus pandemic”, stated the ONS, which published the data.
Industries that showed the greatest increases in business creations in the first quarter compared with the same period last year were retail, wholesale and logistics. These were consistent with a rise in new businesses trying to address the increased need for online shopping and home delivery services.
Ronald Nyakairu, senior manager for Insight & Analytics at LDC, said that changing work and holiday patterns had been key contributing factors.
“The increase in staycations has provided a boost to local businesses in popular seaside towns such as Scarborough and Great Yarmouth, while the move to working from home has seen often neglected commuter suburbs like Kilburn, Denton and Erdington enjoy an increase in footfall.
“With vacancy rates at record levels, the number of units available to let has never been greater. This has facilitated generous property terms for independent retailers including rent-free periods or landlord contributions.”
This is certainly true in Denton, according to local MP Andrew Gwynne. He said units were rented out almost as soon as they become vacant.
Manchester residents looking for homes with gardens as they work more from home had also acted as a catalyst for the start-up boom, he said. “The traditional terraced housing in old Denton used to be short term tenancies. Now families are buying them. It’s gentrifying.”
These new arrivals have brought their tastes with them, supporting a new delicatessen and artisan bakery.
Yusuf Ceyhan is about to open a wine bar near his two restaurants in Denton. He has lost more than £100,000 in the pandemic but is investing another £70,000 in his new venture.
“We have all had enough of staying in. We want to spend money and come somewhere classy,” he said.
Even when indoor dining was banned last year local entrepreneurs turned the disused post office in the town square into a smart restaurant and cocktail bar, The Postroom.
Ross Anderton used to travel the world to build stage sets, but now manages the venue. “We are all Denton lads and we want to give locals the same quality you get in central Manchester,” he said. “You don’t have to spend £20 on a taxi into town to have a good night out.”