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Unlocking Frome! Local businesses react to the ‘roadmap’ to lift lockdown

LOCAL businesses have been reacting to the news about the Government’s “road-map” to remove lockdown restrictions in England.

Last week the Government announced that from no earlier than 12th April, businesses such as shops, hairdressers, and beauty salons will be allowed to welcome back customers indoors while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve people outdoors.

The news has been welcomed by some of Frome’s businesses, who have described the financial impact of the lockdowns as “horrendous”.

Manager of Winstone’s Hunting Raven Books, Tina Gaisford-Waller said, “It’s so good to have a date in mind, even if it shifts slightly – having time to plan, for a change, is wonderful. It feels so nice to know what we are aiming towards, and plan that slowly, and make a good job of it.”

Local stylist Christelle Roux has said that the news  brings to an end a period of limbo that has left businesses “guessing” about when they can return.

“It’s positive news, not just for my business, but for the community too,” said Christelle. Having your hair cut or styled is a necessity for lots of people, and it can make people feel good – it’s a moment for themselves. It will be good to have some normality return.

“I’m now busy trying to reschedule everybody. It’s a good feeling, on the whole overwhelming, but a good feeling to be coming back to work.”

But for the pub and restaurant sector, news of the Government’s “roadmap” has been met with concern, with some calling the plans a “big mistake”. 

Landlord of The Old Bath Arms, Richard Findlay, has criticised the “roadmap”, warning that the pub and restaurant sector will struggle to be “financially sustainable” if only allowed to open their outdoor seating areas.

“We are looking to reopen when all restrictions are cancelled in June,” said Richard. “I don’t think we can convince people to come and have a meal in the pub when they are still worried about catching the virus.”

Shop local says mayor

As the community prepares to make steps towards life post-lockdown, mayor of Frome, cllr Anita Collier, is encouraging everyone to once again “shop local” and support the town’s businesses as they welcome back customers for a third time.

“Our businesses have paid a heavy price for all the lockdowns this year and last,” says cllr Collier, “so it’s vitally important that when the time comes, we do all we can to support them by shopping locally.” 

Rallying the community to support local businesses, the mayor added, “The recent news from the government about our slow climb back to normality is timely and most welcome. 

“We still have a long way to go but I’m delighted for our business traders that they now have a date to work to. 

“Maybe, if all goes well, we’ll see all our shops back open from 12th April and our hospitality and entertainment venues open from 17th May. It can’t come soon enough! 

“We’ve missed them all and I’m sure you’ll join me in welcoming the days when they can bring life back into the town. Let’s make sure we all keep following the rules to make sure it happens!”

About the financial impact of the three national lockdowns, Christelle Roux said, “It’s just been horrendous. Obviously the lockdown has been for the good of everyone, and you have to follow the rules. 

“But at the same time, you can’t help thinking that your business is going down the pan. It’s been hard to watch that happen and not be able to do anything about it.”

For Hunting Raven, which has remained open  to customers online and over the phone, trading during lockdown has left them “humbled”.

“The online business, and people collecting purchases from the shop has completely sustained us through it,” said Tina. “It’s been lovely not being completely cut off from our customers – the support has been brilliant, we’ve been blown away by it.”

Richard Findlay from the Old Bath Arms, who has maintained a food delivery service throughout lockdown said, “It’s difficult for me to get excited about restrictions lifting – the financial damage lockdown has caused has been insurmountable.”

About the plans to gradually reopen pubs and restaurants, Richard said, “You can’t just open the beer gardens, whoever has advised that is wrong, absolutely wrong. It will do more damage to open the beer gardens, so I don’t think I will open mine.

“I say don’t open up the pubs and bars until it is completely safe to do so – don’t spoon-feed them – because that’s going to cost more money.

“You’re not going to make enough money opening a beer garden to sustain buying stock or paying the staff. It’s crazy. It will cost more to open the beer and pay all the staff than it would to open up the whole building. You can’t phase in customers back into a pub – there’s no point.”

Ahead of the Budget on Wednesday 3rd March, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that eligible shops, pubs, restaurants and  other businesses will receive grants of up to £18,000 from a £5billion ‘Restart Grant scheme’ to help them reopen as lockdown is eased. 

And whilst news of the ‘Restart Grant scheme’ has been described as “fabulous” by Richard, the landlord has explained that any money accumulated will be passed on to creditors.

“The damage is already done,” said Richard. “It has been almost a whole year trading under restrictions – we’ve not been able to pay leases, loans, and investment capital.” 

The landlord, who describes himself as “pessimistically optimistic” about the lifting of lockdown restrictions, has explained that pubs and restaurants need to have customers inside and out, to have a chance of covering stock and staffing costs. The Government’s “roadmap” has earmarked no earlier than 17th May for when pub customers can be seated indoors; and for all restrictions on social contact to be lifted no earlier than 21st June.

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