‘We’re all excited, it’s been a long time coming’: East Sussex traders share their excitement in reopening

As businesses start to reopen in line with government guidelines, traders in East Sussex have shared their thoughts on the easing of lockdown.
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From April 12, outdoor hospitality and non-essential shops and services have opened up across England, including Wealden’s 16 high streets and neighbourhood shopping areas.

A campaign has been running across Wealden to encourage people to shop Covid-safely and promote high street businesses ahead of things getting back to normal.

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Throughout the pandemic, Wealden District Council and marketing experts Prowse & Co, have been working closely with high streets and shopping areas to encourage people to shop locally and safely through the Shop & Dine Well in Wealden campaign.

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A resource pack of marketing material has been created and delivered to each location to help local retailers, restaurants and bars to reopen safely. This includes hundreds of shop window stickers, posters, banners and 23,925 café/bar coasters. There is also more advertising in local magazines and radio, and lots of promotion on social media.

All this is to remind people to stay socially distanced as they return to the high street, reassure the more vulnerable members of society, and show people that local traders are putting measures in place to help keep their customers safe.

Wealden District Council’s allocation of the Reopening High Streets Safely fund, which has been extended until the end of June, has gained the scheme more than £140,000 from the government.

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Not only has the campaign supported businesses which have remained open through lockdown, allowing customers to stay safe, it is also helping businesses reopen on April 12.

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Speaking ahead of reopening, traders across East Sussex shared their excitement and experience of the pandemic up until now.

Nash Robbins, the owner of Much Ado Books in Alfriston, said, “We’re excited to open and we’re looking forward to having the public back and sharing the changes we’ve made.

“We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have some qualms about making sure people are safe and making sure the shop is appropriate to keep customers safe, but overall it’s a great anticipation. It’s going to be really good to be back.”

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Nash said the shop has seen a number of changes for everything to be Covid-safe and he’s welcomed the work done through the Wealden campaign.

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He said, “We’re really grateful to Wealden in putting that campaign together, they’ve been a terrific resource for not only information and monetary support, but they’re being really proactive in reassuring people that might be nervous to make sure people can enjoy shopping on the high street to the absolute fullest.

“It’s getting the word out, making people aware, not only that shops are available again but also that shops are sensitive to all the issues that the pandemic has raised.”

Nash said he’s been using lockdown to improve the bookshop with internal changes, changed they’re excited for customers to see.

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He said, “We’ll be doing our part to keep our community safe and that’s really important. We all feel a duty of care to do our best.”

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Ms Match, an independent clothes and gift shop in Hailsham, is owned by Lesley Minnette.

Lesley said, “I’m looking forward to opening, I’m sick of being stuck at home.”

She said she’s made changes to the shop to make it Covid-friendly.

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Lesley said, “I think all the local businesses in Hailsham are going to do everything they can to make it as safe as possible. I think if we follow the rules we will be alright. You’ve just got to try and follow the rules the best you can.”

Touching on Wealden District Council she said, “They got the grants out very quickly, it’s been a godsend.

“They’ve been really helpful, advising us about grants and getting it out there that shops are reopening. Local authorities have been pretty good and the campaign has been very helpful. Fingers crossed and bring on Monday.”

In East Dean, the Beehive on the Green deli and cafe had to get rid of its cafe and relaunched soley as a deli and shop in July last year to survive.

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Lee Canning, the owner, said, “We had to change our whole concept. Before, we could serve 28 covers inside and out – that all went and we turned ourselves into a shop and takeaway. We’ve managed to keep afloat since then - we would have gone under if not.”

Lee said he knows many friends in the industry who have ‘gone under’ due to the financial impact of the pandemic.

He said, “It’s been tough for everyone. We’re staying in our present format for now because it’s working quite well - we’re managing.

“Small companies are on their knees, we’re one of the lucky ones by changing our concept but the heart of it has gone now.”

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Lee now supplies the community with their basic food needs and takeaway hot drinks.

In terms of the campaign, he said, “Anything they can do will be a plus for the future. We’re just pushing on.

“We are doing our best as a nation but people are beginning to buckle at the knees now and people want to start living their lives again.”

You Raise Me Up is a coffee shop and support group for bereaved families in Polegate. Lesley Powell, the head of fundraising, said the support group has been able to continue since August last year, but the coffee shop community hub has been closed.

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She said, “We’ve gone over and above to keep offering support for people. Being able to see our bereaved families has made a massive difference to them. From a charity perspective we’ve never been busier.”

Lesley said despite this, the local community has missed out. She said, “They’ve lost that community space by us being shut. To physically see our regulars again will be lovely. We’re excited to see more people. ”

In terms of financial support, she said furlough has been ‘huge’ for the charity.

Lesley said, “Wealden District Council has been helping us with the lockdown money, that’s plugged the gap - they’ve been really helpful.

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“I’m going with the flow now, just got to keep doing what we’re asked to do and people will accept it as a way of life now and just get on with it.

“Customers will be safe with us and we’re looking forward to seeing them all. If it wasn’t for people supporting us we wouldn’t be able to open up again.”

Inner Beauty in Pevensey is co-owned by Sharon Bella. She said, “It’s been very unsettling, there’s been so many changes to how we operate and it’s very different to how we usually work.”

Sharon said from April 12 the salon is ‘really really busy’ with lots of appointments booked in.

She said, “We’re all excited. It’s been a long time coming.

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“Furlough has been brilliant for keeping our staff on. We’re very lucky.”

Sharon said she is feeling optimistic for the future.

“We’re really excited to be back, can’t wait to see our clients again, we’ve changed the salon to make it very Covid-secure.

“We’re really confident for the future, all the vulnerable people have now been vaccinated and most of our staff have been vaccinated too so we’re feeling very safe - we’re feeling very positive.”

To find out more about Shop & Dine Well in Wealden, go to: https://www.wealden.gov.uk/news/shop-dine-well-in-wealden/

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