Air of optimism as town re-opens

Brigg has a wide range of independent businesses, many of which have diversified during the Covid-19 crisis to be able to keep trading – and they will be the key to getting the high street back up and running in the months ahead.

Businesses and retailers in the small north Lincolnshire market town of Brigg have faced many challenges over the years, particularly to maintain footfall and trade in its town centre. So its never-say-die attitude, which is always to the fore in times of crisis, will stand it in good stead as it begins its journey to recovery from the 15 weeks of lockdown that led to everything grinding to a halt.

When the shops were able to reopen their doors on 4th July, traders worked hard to get their premises up to scratch. Supported by North Lincolnshire Council, businesses put in a huge amount of work to ensure shopping locally was safe, with funding from central Government going towards street markings, posters and signage.

Sian Sargent, at Brigg Wool Shop, Market Place, said: “A lot of our customers were nervous about going shopping again but the extra steps we have taken have really helped them to feel more at ease. It is great to see all the independent shops in Brigg working together to try to keep everyone safe and happy.”

While businesses welcomed the easing of restrictions, they urged customers to respect social distancing guidelines and help prevent a second outbreak.

Shipley’s CuriosiTeas, on Wrawby Street, was able to continue operating through lockdown by providing takeaways on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It was granted a licence by the council, permitting alcoholic drinks to be served with the sandwiches and cakes and owner Amanda Gould took the opportunity to revamp the place.

“It has not been easy,” she said. “It was a bit up and down. VE Day was brilliant and we provided lots of afternoon teas. But day-to-day business was not that good. It is difficult because some people don’t want to mix with other people at the moment and I was very nervous about reopening, knowing whether I was getting things right.

“It is going to be a struggle but I got a licence to sell alcohol so I am going to be doing quite a lot of special teas and my intention is to open one night a week as well.”

Chair of Brigg Town Business Partnership, Deb Dunderdale, who also runs the Deli & Diner on Wrawby Street, said: “It was hard work and it seemed a bit rushed. We didn’t open until 8th July because it was hard for us to get deliveries in time. It was a bit quick between the announcement and the date of opening.”

Outdoor markets in Ashby and Brigg reopened from Thursday 4th June, with social distancing measures in place to protect customers and stallholders. People were urged to stay alert and follow the instructions that were displayed when supporting the businesses. Before returning to trading, each stallholder had to complete a Covid-19 risk assessment to ensure they had taken the necessary steps to implement Government guidance to operate safely.

More space was created at Brigg Market with stalls repositioned to provide customers with more space when queuing. Additional measures, including floor markings and signage, was also displayed, offering advice to customers.

Businesses in Brigg are welcoming back shoppers now, as restrictions on opening have been lifted. Traders have been working hard to ensure their premises are Covid-19 secure so they can welcome customers back safely. As well as new social distancing measures in shops, North Lincolnshire Council has put up extra signage around the town to remind people to act responsibly.

Brigg Town Business Partnership members, which includes most of the shops in the town, signed a pledge to go the extra mile to keep customers and staff safe when they visit the town’s independent shops.

The Brigg for Business Events & Community page on Facebook had details of which shops were open when. Deb Dunderdale said: “Our members have worked hard to make Brigg shops a caring and safe place, giving confidence to shoppers to encourage them to return to the town and shop safe and smart in Brigg. Shop local and independent.

Councillor Rob Waltham, Leader of North Lincolnshire Council, said: “Our local businesses need your support more than ever. A great deal of work has gone into making shopping safe and if people follow the guidelines then we can prevent a local outbreak.”

Before the coronavirus hit, North Lincolnshire Council was planning to develop its community resources across the area including at The Angel in Brigg as part of a £5m investment programme. Community hubs were to be redeveloped to better meet the needs of the individual communities by improving accessibility and functionality.

The new Brigg community hub will incorporate information, advice and guidance, library services including a children’s library, access to computers, healthy lifestyle advice, reminiscence sessions, coffee mornings, children and adult group activities, community space and much more.

The first phase at The Angel included the installation of a Changing Places toilet that is accessible and meets the needs of all people with a disability. Phase two will see the second floor space transformed and the toilets on the first floor refurbished while the third and final phase will see the rest of the office space on the ground floor, plus the ballroom and basement area refurbished. Local business Steve Ball Joinery Ltd was contracted to carry out the work at The Angel.

Councillor Waltham said: “This is a significant investment across North Lincolnshire communities that will really benefit our residents. The council is committed to keeping residents safe and well, and enabling communities to flourish. The community hubs project plays a big part in this. Support and facilities will be brought together in a community base that will save people time and improve people’s quality of life.

“The community hub in Brigg will be a key asset for people to access services and get the support they need. It is fantastic to see a major investment in facilities for people with a disability, with a new Changing Places toilet also being installed to make the hub accessible for all.

“As a resident of Brigg, I will be playing my part and shopping locally.”

The Angel is expected to reopen later this month (August).

Brigg is home to many diverse and quirky small independent shops, which helps give the town a character all of its own.

The Rabbit Hole in the Market Place is one such business and lockdown has proved a hard time for the friendly indie bookshop.

“We closed immediately for lockdown and did not trade online at all for a number of reasons,” explained owner Nick Webb who runs the shop with his wife Mel.

“Lockdown itself was painful, as we did not get any support beyond the grant for small businesses. We had expanded during the years previous and as a new business anyway only turned a small profit for the first time last year, so did not qualify for the self-employed income support.”

Nick said they were fortunate that the Booksellers Association had been amazingly supportive of all indie bookshops.

“I do not think anyone could have been supported more. Talking with other businesses who are reopening, they are astonished by the amount of support and guidance we received. Some publishers and distributors have also been amazingly innovative with their different forms of support.

“We are hoping we can survive and all the way through worked with our reading groups virtually with some wonderful authors keeping reading and books alive. We also decided to open a market stall on Brigg market, as it meant we had contact with our customers again from 1st June and worked to get the shop ready for 15th June.

“We have kept the stall going as it provides another environment for customers to see us, as some people still do not like venturing into shops.”

Nick said reopening has also been a strange experience.

“The shop is stripped back with toys and other items removed,” he explained. “We have a prominent hand-sanitising station and all PPE available if asked for by customers.

“We have found a large number of returning customers who say that we are the first shop they have entered since March, which we find very humbling.”

Nick and Mel are still hand delivering to some customers who are still isolating for various reasons.

“We have also found ourselves with a larger number of customers calling in, at a socially acceptable distance to just chat,” Nick said.

“Before lockdown many used to come for a regular cup of tea and chat and hopefully that will return. We are still optimistic but due to finances after not getting the Self-Employed Income Support we make no secret of the fact that like many others we are going to find it tough surviving.

“But we are very determined not to stop trying and hope to restart our different groups as soon as we can.

“We have special events planned through August and September with authors for adults and children and we are already planning for our second Kids Book Fest in March, should we survive.”

Support has been on hand from the Brigg Town Business Partnership as well as North Lincolnshire Council.

BTBP chair Deb Dunderdale, who also manages Brigg’s Deli & Diner in Wrawby Street said, it has been hard work.

“Brigg is optimistic but cautious,” she said. “We have lost a few shops and some have gone on working from home. But we do have more coming in.

“We are running a Shop Local – Stay Safe in Brigg scheme to encourage people to use their local businesses and to assure them that it is safe to shop in Brigg.”

Deb has been at the Deli & Diner for 26 years, as long as it has been open, and said reopening was difficult.

“We could have opened on the Saturday but it seemed a bit rushed and it was difficult for us to get a delivery because they are normally made on a Tuesday.

“It was a bit quick and when you haven’t worked for 14 weeks it is even more hectic for us. We make everything ourselves and it takes a long time to build your menu back up again.”

The Deli & Diner opened on Wednesday 8th July and it had three really good days.

“People had complained there was nowhere to go to have a coffee and trade is picking up nicely. North Lincolnshire Council has been very supportive of our scheme and is trying to encourage people to go back to their high streets.

“This situation has brought a lot more people back into the town. It is the little shops and the independents that keep us going while the big names are really struggling. The whole country is affected and everybody is in the same predicament. But the feeling generally in Brigg is there is an air of optimism. Things are bad but you have to look for the positives.

“We will survive. It is the British spirit and a lot of people through this lockdown have spoken to neighbours for the first time, so it has brought back a bit of spirit into the community.”

Brigg’s leading independent optical practice, O’Brien’s Opticians, re-opened on 1st July, with a full range of Covid-19 protocols in place.

The award-winning team led by optometrist, Dr Sheeraz Janjua, have been delighted to welcome back new clients and familiar faces. “There are new procedures in place,” said Dr Janjua, “and we must thank clients for their patience during these difficult times. We have an appointment system in place which can be booked by phone, email, or through our social media channels.”

O’Brien’s are taking appointments for all routine optical services including eye examinations, styling consultation, spectacle dispensing, fittings or collection. You will be advised of the protocols to follow prior to your appointment.

Dr Janjua performs all the eye examinations and his specialist knowledge and research into dry eye syndrome has made him a leader in this field. “I take great pride in the precision calculation of spectacle prescriptions and accurately dispensing ophthalmic lenses by world leading manufacturers.”

Using the exceptional lens quality of manufacturers such as Carl Zeiss, Nikon, Hoya and Essilor, Dr Janjua prescribes lens types, tints and coatings which improve the ability of people to go about their daily tasks. Specialist prismatic lenses from the USA can improve the quality of life for people with glaucoma, retinitis, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration.

“Helping people to maintain or improve their lifestyle, such as day or night driving or going about daily tasks more efficiently is very rewarding. We also have a wide choice of stylish frames by leading brands such as Prada, Paul Smith, Hoya, Ray Ban, Oakley and many more so there are options to suit your colouring, lifestyle and fashion tastes. Our team are on hand to help you make the right styling choices for you and your budget.”, tel: 01652 653595

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