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Local civic and business leaders have welcomed the planned re-opening of many ‘non-essential’ shops in Gillingham on Monday 15 June as lockdown restrictions ease further.

And they have urged local people to do all they can to help Gillingham’s local businesses by shopping locally.

‘It’s great news for our local economy to be able to welcome back many more of our local non-essential retail businesses, both on the High Street and those based around the town as well, on Monday,’ said Gillingham’s mayor Barry Von Clemens, who said that he believed ‘most’ shops that were able to would be open soon.

Gillingham High Street
Many ‘non-essential’ shops are due to re-open in Gillingham Monday.

But he added: ‘They will need our help to ensure that they remain open in our fabulous town so I would ask everyone to support our local economy wherever we can. Staying local and shopping local giving our local shops the support they need to start on the long and hard road to recovery is vital.’

Councillor Von Clemens said he was talking to Dorset councillors and representatives from neighbouring towns to discuss ways to help local businesses. ‘It’s going to be a long and difficult job getting our local economy up and running again and this is one of my priorities as we start to come out of lockdown,’ he said.

Sharon Cullingford, who is a town councillor, chair of the Gillingham Chamber of Commence and a local businesswoman, also welcomed the re-opening of many stores. ‘As long as our residents continue to support the high street and local businesses, I am sure life will get back to some normality fairly quickly,’ she said.

Councillor Cullingford said the chamber is meeting this week to discuss plans for the rest of 2020. ‘It would be nice to organise a virtual network meeting for our members to offer some support during the early days of resuming back to some normality with our businesses,’ she added. 

She said the Gillingham showroom of her own carpet and interiors company would re-open on Monday. ‘For us it’s more of an issue of getting stock and deliveries from our suppliers and manufacturers. Many still have reps furloughed, with skeleton  staff working in the offices and warehousing,  delivery companies are running a restricted service,’ said Councillor Cullingford. ‘So it’s not just a case of returning back to normal immediately, it is going to be a long steady process.’

She said that one fear was that of another lockdown if there were a spike of cases in the South West, something which would be ‘devastating’ for businesses as well as society in general.

But she added: ‘We have all been extremely well supported financially by the government, landlords have also been generous. The support system the government put in place certainly saved so many business to date from closing.’

As restrictions ease, shops that may reopen include those that sell clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books and electronics. Hairdressers, beauty salons and leisure facilities currently remain closed. Cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars are also closed unless they are offering a take-away service.

Businesses will only be able to open if they are confident about managing the risks and are able to follow the COVID-19 secure guidelines.

To keep people safe, Dorset Council says it has been working with town and parish councils across the county. Work is underway and will continue over the coming weeks to implement various measures on high streets designed to help shoppers stay safe:

  • Stencilled markings and signs around busy areas, including bus stops, helping people to observe social-distancing

  • Widening footways and cycleways by temporarily closing parking bays and cutting back vegetation

  • Scheduled partial road closures to provide more space for pedestrians, especially around food huts and vans

  • Creating additional cycle parking and new cycle routes

  • In the longer-term, pedestrianising busy areas with large numbers of cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars.

Some shops will have staff members greet customers to explain the social distancing measures inside, and manage how many customers can come in. Businesses will also manage any queue that forms and stop people from joining if their space limit is reached.

Dorset Council says it recommends cycling or walking to town high streets whenever possible. ‘However, we have re-opened council-run car-parks and normal charges are in operation,’ said a spokesperson. ‘Please use your mobile phone to pay for parking where you can, by calling/texting or using the Just Park app. If you need to use a ticket machine, keep your distance from others when waiting to pay.’

Anyone using public transport should remember that from 15 June it is compulsory to wear a face covering while travelling on public transport.

Many public toilets will also be open, and these have full hand-washing facilities available. ‘Some toilets will remain closed while we make changes to ensure they are safe for public use. Please wash your hands regularly, before you leave home and when you get back. If you know you are likely to use a public toilet, make sure to carry your own hand sanitiser and gels,’ said a council spokesperson.

Councillor Gary Suttle, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for Economic Growth and Skills, said: ‘By staying local we can continue to limit the spread of COVID-19, and by shopping local we can ensure that our local high-street shops are able to get back on their feet.

‘This is a crucial time for local business-owners who want to welcome shoppers back while ensuring that their customers stay safe. By councils working together with businesses and their customers, we can maintain public health and support the economy to start re-opening safely.

‘Local businesses need your support right now to ensure they can continue to trade in the future. Our message for residents is if you continue to follow the public health guidance around COVID-19 it’s safe to get back out there and do some shopping on your high street.’

For more information:

The government’s announcement about non-essential shops re-opening: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/thousands-of-high-street-shops-department-stores-and-shopping-centres-to-reopen-safely-in-england

Dorset businesses can find more information at https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/emergencies-severe-weather/emergencies/coronavirus/business-and-employers/re-opening-dorset-high-streets.aspx

Gillingham High Street
Getting ready: many ‘non-essential’ shops are due to re-open in Gillingham’s High Street.
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