The actions taken to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have hugely affected cafes, restaurants, retail, and many other businesses.  Local Simon Julian felt their pain, and through his business Pipelabs, Support Your Community was born out of this desire to find ways to assist local venues and to help people weather this storm. He recently spoke with The Westsider.

    What’s your connection to the inner-west?

    I have lived in this area for the past 15 years, from the days when Yarraville felt like a quiet little country town. One of the things that I have always loved is how open people are and how ready to meet new people and welcome them to the community. I’ve always been a foodie and I love the diversity of options; dumplings in Footscray, different types of African, Vietnamese, Greek, plus a huge number of different options for beers now with all of the new breweries. Three of seven of the team at Pipelabs live in the West so we all have a special place in our hearts for the area.

    How does the “support” initiative work?

    It’s built around the concept of businesses signing up to the site, ideally providing a view of their business, themselves as people and a bit about how they are going in the current times. They provide their bank details and these are verified to make sure they are a ‘real’ business. Once we have that (takes about 5 minutes to sign up, it’s easy!) we can offer vouchers to that business that are redeemable whenever the purchaser likes.

    Where did the idea come from?

    I run a couple of small businesses, one of which is a digital and e-commerce consultancy called Pipelabs. We were hit hard by the lockdowns (like everyone else) as clients closed operations or paused projects, and that led to our looking for projects we could do in the meantime. We’d been talking about how we might help and I wanted to do something to help locally in my community, so the initiative allowed us to do something that kept us busy and excited during what was a pretty hard period.

    Why vouchers instead of direct transactions?

    We reasoned that vouchers would be a good place to start as we could provide them for almost no cost as digital vouchers and it allowed for people to give them to others, buy themselves and generally provided for a way to spread the word in a way that direct transactions might not have done. The idea was very much that for some businesses, if they were not able to provide services straight away a voucher gave them cash that they needed for services that they could provide later when they were able.

    Can members of the community suggest a business?

    Absolutely, the whole initiative was to try to get people talking and engaged – I’d love it if the voucher model helped people out and put extra cash in their pockets when they needed it, but something we’ve really noticed on Facebook and Instagram is that the business owners on the site have just loved that someone is prepared to try to help them out and not profit from it.

    Can this concept work in a post COVID-19 world, whatever that may look like?

    I’d love to see this extend beyond the current issues even if just from the perspective of local people being more conscious of the businesses around them and actively engaging with them as people who also love the area in which they live. I can buy a book on Amazon today and get it delivered tomorrow, but I’m always in Yarraville anyway and if I buy the same book from the Sun Bookshop I’m injecting that money into the community I love and helping to ensure that the bookshop stays there, helping keep local people employed and ensuring that the cultural integrity of the area is protected.

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