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Shop local, shop independent and shop safe!

Halesworth town centre is home to over 100 businesses along the Thoroughfare and around the traditional Market Place. The charm of the town is that most of the businesses are independently owned offering key services and products, along with a wide range of shops that are more unique. Karen Prime from Halesworth Town Centre Group explains more.

Important to all of them is their customers, whether they are from the local area or visiting from further afield. This year has, more than ever, seen them all having to rethink how they work and how they can keep customers visiting the town.

All change this year

Telephone and email orders, home deliveries, outside counters, restricted hours, face coverings, social distancing, queues, restricted access. When 2020 started, nobody really knew what would happen this year and how it would impact our lives. For the businesses in Halesworth, the world has turned upside down with the pandemic affecting both their personal and business lives considerably.

March 23rd 2020 was significant for everyone but for the town centre businesses it meant one of two things – either closing their doors for an unknown period of time with no income, or adapting what they did to meet the new health and safety guidelines. Unfortunately for many there was no choice but to close temporarily.

Lockdown changes

Almost overnight Halesworth’s butchers, baker, pet shop, greengrocers, supermarkets, hospitality and key service businesses rethought how they worked to continue supporting the community in the best way they knew – putting the customer first!

Many started delivery services for the first time to make sure that you didn’t need to leave home, particularly valuable for the old and vulnerable in the area. It was a real team effort amongst the businesses.

Throughout this time, the Wednesday market continued in the Market Place and as a great example of teamwork, businesses worked together to coordinate a Halesworth VE Day afternoon tea which was then safely delivered to over 100 homes of vulnerable residents.

The Halesworth COVID 19 Response group, formed of various local stakeholder organisations, played a vital role in the town by co-ordinating communications, volunteers to collect shopping and vital supplies for the housebound, as well as continuing with the food-bank.

Reopening

For some businesses the lockdown period was difficult with no income. Some were able to make use of government help but some were not eligible for any financial assistance making it a worrying time. Halesworth shoppers have always been loyal but more needed to resort to online shopping whilst the majority of bricks and mortar shops were closed. But the town also saw how many people, including new customers, realised the ease of shopping local where possible and the importance of shopping locally, supporting independent businesses.

At the time of this article in mid August, most businesses have now been allowed to re-open but with significant changes to how they work. The most important thing for every business though is working to try to keep their customers and staff safe, by giving everyone enough safe space.

Making more safe space

For six weeks during July and August, Halesworth Town Council piloted a full closure of the Thoroughfare between 10am and 2pm, except for essential vehicles. This allowed everybody to have enough space to queue and move between shops and businesses safely while socially distancing. Halesworth is really lucky in that this area is normally semi-pedestrianised. The Halesworth Volunteer Centre again have coordinated a wonderful team of volunteers on busy days who have helped shoppers and visitors with any questions. The Councillors will be reviewing whether to extend this temporary closure.

What next?

Whether we are visiting shops, cafes, hairdressers or other services, we all are responsible for keeping each other safe. Businesses will be following all of the guidelines but it is equally important that customers do the same. Who knows how long these guidelines will be in place or whether there will be further lockdowns? Who knows what the longer term impact will be on market towns like Halesworth.

What is clear is that Halesworth businesses will change and adapt to support the community during any lockdown or difficult time, ensuring the most vulnerable are kept safe. Therefore please continue to buy locally, supporting the wide range of independent businesses and keeping your spend in the local community.