Towns across Britain today began taking themselves out of lockdown as high street businesses looked to claw themselves back to normality amid the coronavirus crisis.
Beauty salons, chocolatiers, florists and coffee shops are tentatively opening their doors to customers, by coming up with their own interpretations of the government’s social distancing rules.
In Alresford, Hampshire, eight high street businesses are now open, including a salon – despite the government insisting hairdressers should not yet be open.
And in Thame, Oxfordshire, the chocolatier, hardware store, florist and the butcher have thrown open their doors for the first time since the lockdown started March.
HAMPSHIRE: Sarah Bridges, owner of Sarah’s Sandwich Shop outside her shop in Alresford
HAMPSHIRE: Tessa Webb, shopkeeper at Manage 2 Eat outside the shop in Alresford
LONDON: A woman carries her dog and a plastic pint cup full of beer through Broadway Market, Hackney, on Wednesday afternoon
Meanwhile in the capital Broadway Market in Hackney was packed with Londoner lapping up the sunshine and grabbing disposal pints of beer and pizzas from restaurants and bars which have opened up for takeaway services.
Most high street businesses were forced to close at the end of March when the country was plunged into lockdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.
Britons were told only to leave their home to buy food, obtain essential medical supplies, to take one hour of exercise a day or to travel to and from work, but only if it could not be done from home.
But earlier this month, the government changed its message from ‘Stay at Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’ as it attempted to ease lockdown restrictions and slowly restart the country’s stalled economy.
Yet many businesses are still unable to open under the government’s official guidelines.
Restaurants and public houses, wine bars or other food and drink establishments including within hotels and members’ clubs are all meant to be closed, apart from food deliveries and takeaways.
The same goes for hairdressers, barbers, beauty and nail salons, including piercing and tattoo parlours.
But veterinary surgeries, pet shops, homeware, building supplies and hardware stores, garden centres, pharmacies and chemists can all remain open, the government say.
OXFORDSHIRE: Manager of Rumsey’s chocolaterie, Karen Lumpkin, stands behind a perspex shield at the shop on the high street in Thame
People enjoy the sunshine in Broadway Market, Hackney, north east London on, Wednesday. A woman holds two sodas while another carries a box of pizza
Mum-of-three Rachael Ashbee, who has run Alresford Beauty in Alresford for eight years, has now opened for collections – and is tentatively booking appointments.
A famous railway line and a history of trading wool and leather: The Hampshire town of Alresford
Alresford has a population of around 5,000 and in the 14th century it established itself as a prosperous market town, focusing on the wool and leather trade.
It is home to the Watercress Line, a steam-worked heritage railway, and attracts tourists visitors due to its classical Georgian streets and idyllic location near Winchester and the South Downs National Park.
It is usually bustling due to its restaurants, jewellers, wine merchants, flower shops, toy shops, dress shops and three pubs – none of which have yet re-opened.
Along with using disinfectant Barbicide to sterilise her products, she has taken an online Covid-19 safety course to come up with a safety strategy in order to reopen her business.
Speaking from her shop, the 48-year-old today said: ‘We shut on March 24 and since then I have only been doing orders and other small requests
‘Normally there are six of working here as beauty therapists but I had to furlough everyone else – I really want to bring all five of them back but it’s not quite worth it yet.
‘We have lots of regular clients who are coming back now and we are seeing business start to pick up again.’
She added: ‘I have rooms upstairs for manicures and pedicures so when we are back to usual we hope to have two therapists working at any one time.
‘We will have a one-way system in the shop and because we have rooms upstairs and downstairs we will be able to social distance.’
She said she has started putting appointments in for July 4 – but is wary that things may change.
Mrs Ashbee is not the only Alresford shopkeeper desperate to reopen.
Just metres away, independent sandwich store Mange2, has begun serving coffee and groceries through its doorway.
Tessa Webb, 64, whose daughter Georgie Jeary, 41, runs the shop said they had adapted brilliantly to the crisis.
She said: ‘Everyone has been very happy they don’t have to come right in. ‘We’ve been serving hot coffee over the table, which acts as a counter and we have just been trying to make sure we have everything and anything people need
Other shops open in the market town include butcher C E Evans and Son, Sole Butchers, Sarah’s Sandwich Shop, The Pet Shop, a Tesco Local and Wessex Pharmacies.
Christopher Beauchamp, butcher at Sole Butchers outside the shop in Alresford on Wednesday
Rachael Ashbee, owner of Alresford Beauty outside her shop in Alresford, Hants
The picture is different in Thame, Oxfordshire, where most business are closed.
But one independent chocolatier is enjoying the sweet taste of success, having reopened on Friday.
Manager of Rumsey’s chocolaterie, Karen Lumpkin said: ‘We have opened for 362 days of the year for the past 13 years, but due to coronavirus we had to shut up shop for seven weeks.
‘We opened the shop for the first time since lockdown on Friday and it has been absolutely manic.
‘There has been no negativity from the customers, only happiness that we are back open for business. People haven’t had a proper coffee for nine weeks.’
It’s not all been sugary sweet for the 55-year-old however, who has had difficulties implementing social distancing at the shop.
Autoparts shop manager Ollie Whitmore at his hardware store in Thame, Oxfordshire on Wednesday
Owner of Buzzie Lizzie flower shop Katie Virdi in Thame, Oxfordshire
The family butcher and caterer is open for business again in Thame, Oxfordshire
She said: ‘Normally we have 10 staff working but the need to social distance means we can only have three on at any time.
‘We are only having one customer in the shop at a time and we have a clear visor up around the till to protect our staff.
‘It’s been a really tricky time but we are getting there.’
In Buzzie Lizzie’s flower shop next door, Katie Virdi had completely shut off the front of the shop, only delivering flowers for special occasions and handing over ‘click and collects.’
‘The plan was just to do our funeral work which was just was considered to be the most important thing but the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
‘We haven’t advertised that we’re here, it’s just been people that haven’t seen their loved ones wanting to send flowers or sympathy flowers.’
Happy customer Jo Dinnage brought her wedding flowers from the family-run flower company 14 years ago and has been a regular customer ever since.
‘We are so happy that they are open. We’ve ordered lots of flowers for birthdays and sad occasions happen too. Sadly coronavirus has hit home, it has hit Thame but it’s great they’ve been able to open.’
Rachael Ashbee, owner of Alresford Beauty inside her shop in Alresford
A member of staff adds chocolate to the rim of ice cream cones at the chocolate shop in Thame
A customer chats to the manager at the chocolaterie in Thame, Oxfordshire
Further along the cobbled high street, manager of Autoparts – a shop dubbed ‘Aladdins cave’ – Ollie Whitmore, 32, said: ‘We shut for a couple of weeks initially and reopened on lesser hours.
‘The coronavirus has been beneficial to us with everyone else being closed. We are catching the overflow and it’s been a lot busier than usual.
‘We are selling face masks, BBQ stuff, toys for the kids, gardening stuff, we’ve got a bit of something for everyone here, a real Aladdin’s cave.
‘We are getting really good feedback from our customers who are desperate for certain items and they can’t get it anywhere else.’
While market town’s like Thame stay relatively quiet, despite the efforts of some businesses to get going again, London’s Broadway Market was packed on the warm and sunny day.
Helen Grogan, who runs The Dove pub, is offering takeaway Belgian beers and proseccos to people wanting to support their local pubs.
She said: ‘The pandemic has been absolutely terrible.
‘They’ve closed our business down. I’ve run this place for 30 years and this is the first time we’ve ever been shut.
‘We specialise in Belgian beers so people have been coming to us since we started doing this since they eased the lockdown.
‘We’re just doing all we can to survive right now.’
People wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, enjoy the sunshine in Broadway Market, Hackney, north east London on May 20
People get out in the sunshine in broadway market, Hackney, north east London
Tracy Byrne, who runs Holistic Health Hackney, said they closed on 20 March and will reopen on 1 June to hopefully take pressure off the NHS.
She said: ‘It’s obviously been worrying and the fact there’s no end in sight is a continuing worry.
‘We are a strong business and we’ve been around for 24 years.
‘We’ve been quietly confident that we’ll get back to how we were.
‘It’ll take a while, as people will be scared to come out, but I’m sure by 1 June we’ll be able to run limited service with four practitioners instead of the usual 30.
‘I’m hoping that, along with hairdressers and beauticians, we’ll be back in full in July.’