A little help from my friends


The pandemic will always serve as a bitter reminder to me that life is both precious and unpredictable.

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During the past few years, I may have mentioned, only once or twice, that I would be part of a team climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Ben Automotive charity.

In January 2020, I was invited to join in this noble journey. However, the world was a different place then, and my motives were mainly self-serving. Originally, I saw this as a chance to fulfil my dream of participating in an epic adventure, being a real superhero, and as for the ”raising money for a charity” part? What a great excuse for work to pay my expenses!

Our climb was scheduled for November 2020, with the possibility of cancellation being very far from anyone’s thoughts, and all was great in both my professional and personal lives. Then on 16 March 2020, everything changed…

I remember feeling stunned at the announcement of the first lockdown. And as business owners, I am sure you can recall your own memories and feelings. For me, lockdown highlighted how fragile all businesses are, and despite the time and service you dedicate to building your business, all of it could be suddenly taken away…gone in moments.

As employers, we had the added responsibility for the wellbeing of our employees. How were we to maintain our workforces? Fortunately, the government quickly came up with the furlough support packages, which meant most of us could avoid making redundancies but in the long term, could we afford to have them return? 

Despite the government’s help and the “we’re all in this together” slogan, it certainly didn’t feel that way to me and I was engulfed with intense feelings of helplessness. Only three months previously, I had been picking up an award with my father for our new software, discussing taking on more lawyers, and expanding the business. Now, I was finding ways to cut costs, reassure my employees, and calculate how many months I could forfeit a salary.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I went from riding the crest of a wave to being dragged down into the sand face first. As an employer and as a person, I was in a dark place that became even darker when I lost my father, who was also my business partner, followed by further lockdowns and business restrictions.

And, this was when my motives for the climb changed.

It is said that “something good always seems to come out of something bad”, and unbelievably, this happened to me. Unexpectedly, friends who I had made through business reached out to me. They just wanted to check in on me. Normally, our conversations would be strictly business with some laughs at industry events, but not these conversations. We talked at length about experiencing similar issues, worries, anger, and grief.  And although our talks couldn’t change our situations, they made me feel better than I had. We continued talking regularly, sharing our setbacks, and celebrating our successes.

And, this was when I understood the importance of the Ben charity to exist.

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I had been at rock bottom, needed help, and received it. But what about those who didn’t have a support network? Or those too proud or feeling ashamed to share with their family and/or friends? What did they do? No one should have to shoulder these situations alone. I may not have had to call Ben, but it is comforting to know they are there for our industry.

As I trained for the climb, I worked closely with the Ben charity and learnt more about the people and businesses they provide both practical and emotional support to. The help that Ben provides to motor trade businesses extends beyond the owners and employees, it encompasses families and individuals whose circumstances have suddenly changed and they have found themselves struggling.

I witnessed the surge for Ben’s help dramatically increase during the pandemic and the effects still reverberate today. Ben needs the money more than ever to carry on assisting those who are most vulnerable.

The pandemic will always serve as a bitter reminder to me that life is both precious and unpredictable. No one knows when they may need help and Ben Automotive is a lifeline for so many people.

So, I am asking on Ben’s behalf, for financial help. Any amount you can spare to help my fundraising would be greatly appreciated and ensure someone who needs support will receive it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Federation sponsors the IGA, IAAF and SMTA, and our suppliers Car Dealer Magazine and Keeping HR Simple for their generous donations.

Also GardX, Dragon 2000, Automotive Compliance, Profit Box, We Recruit Auto, Impression Communications, Haswent, Involution, Connected Car Finance, Wearewood Services, Brave Agency, ECSC Group and Octane Finance who took A BANNER ADVERT to support the cause.

And all the dealers who entered OUR PRIZE DRAW COMPETITION and/or donated to our BANGERS 4 BEN RALLY

Because of you, we have already raised a MASSIVE £17,500.00!

Joel CombesManaging DirectorRead More by this author

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