After months of shuttered doors, it’s been heartening to see Britain’s high streets, town centres and retail parks buzzing again.
But as much as we all want to get life back to normal, we also all want to stay safe. None of us want to squander the progress we’ve made in suppressing the virus – progress that hasn’t just allowed us to take the first steps back towards our old lives, but that has saved lives too.
That means as we get back onto the High Street, retailers have done plenty of work to get ready for us – putting measures in place to reduce the risk of the virus unknowingly spreading.
Combined with all of us remembering the importance of hands, face and space, that means we can feel confident in returning to our favourite shops, seeing our friends and family, and looking forward to a great summer ahead.
“We weren’t letting Covid-19 jeopardise our future”
The Lake District remains one of the UK’s crown jewels, and 168-year-old icon Grasmere Gingerbread is right at the heart of it.
Their Instagram-worthy shop has been closed, like all other non-essential retail, since before Christmas. And whilst they were able to pivot quickly to online sales – they’ve been mailing out oven-fresh treats for some eighty years – they are delighted to be able to open their doors.
Co-owner Joanne Hunter said that “while we’ve been really successful online, sending products all over the world, 85 per cent of our business comes through the door.
“So we had to be ready to safely re-open on April 12.”
That meant installing a bespoke Perspex full-length screen in front of the counter, a traffic light system to limit numbers in store and socially distanced queuing that was moved to the adjoining churchyard to keep the pavement outside the store crowd-free – as well as a small outdoor shop to cut down queue time. “We only allow one customer in at a time,’ says Joanne. “So everyone is loving getting an exclusive one-to-one experience in store.”
Safety has been paramount for Grasmere’s reopening. “We use lateral flow tests twice a week and daily temperature checks for all staff to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep everyone safe,” says Andrew. “And we’ve made our own hand sanitiser, which we developed with another local company.”
But with coach-loads of Japanese, Chinese, Indian and European tourists still unable to visit, sales have been slow. “We’ve had great weather in the Lakes, and with children back at school, we were hoping for more staycationers and day-trippers, but so far it’s been really quiet,” says Andrew. “But we’re hopeful that things will pick up as the summer progresses and day-trippers re-discover the beauty of the Lakes.”
If nothing else, the smell of freshly baked gingerbread will lure in any passers-by. “We quite often have people queuing up who have no idea what we’re making, they just need to know what smells so delicious!” laughs Andrew.
The High Street has had it hard
Of course, even before the pandemic, the rise of online shopping has made life hard for a whole host of so-called “bricks and mortar” retailers. As footfall in town centres has fallen, so too has life been made difficult for smaller businesses that rely on people heading in to do a bit of shopping – from cafes to restaurants to local pubs, as well as hairdressers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges – and the headlines have been full of large retailers unable to stay afloat. It’s been hard for small businesses too. Many of them are family owned, and key parts of the community, and they’ve gone above and beyond to make sure that their customers can return to safe environments.
A cut above – hairdressers get back to work
Richard Wallace, from Solihull, runs his own business – Richard Wallace Hairdressing.
“This last lockdown was far worse than the first or second one,” he tells us. “Weather, short days, uncertainty and stress” all added up to a difficult time – and cashflow was a problem too.
“I’d been counting the days to get back open,” he continues.
Since the salon reopened, he’s been really pleased with the reaction.
“The response from our clients has been overwhelmingly positive, and the income has been incredible welcome with our financial challenges moving forward,” he says.
It’s not just Richard that was glad to get back up and running, though. His team were glad to be back.
He was worried, he said, “how the team were going to return after another long lockdown. We did however have last year’s experience to draw from in reopening the salon and prioritising clients.”
Like all hairdressers, there have been lots of changes in the salon. Perspex screens and of course masks have been a key part of it, but though Richard has said it presents a challenge, the customers thrilled to get their lockdown locks lopped off seem happy enough!
We all have a part to play
Retailers, landlords and everybody in between have made huge efforts to make their spaces Covid-secure, but we’ve all got to play our part too.
What can you do to make sure everybody stays safe as we gradually reopen?
- Always follow Hands/Face/Space/Fresh Air
- Follow the one-way system and adhere to any limitations of store entry
- Maintain 2m distance and wear a face covering when moving around
- Wash or sanitise hands regularly
- Have your phone ready prior to entry to check in using the app (or provide details if you do not have the App)
- Be prepared to pay via contactless
Moving towards normality
The huge success of the vaccine rollout program as well as our sticking to lockdown rules has given us the upper hand over a deadly virus that has taken too many of our friends and family, and put normal life on hold.
As we reopen, let’s enjoy getting back to normal – but let’s do it safely!