Thursday 3rd December 2020
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Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the August 2020 issue

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A true grit spirit and dogged determination will be the key to the rebuilding of local economies and that is something that abounds in the south Lincolnshire town.

New life is being breathed into town and city centres up and down the country as the Government slowly eases the lockdown restrictions which saw shops and businesses closed, the high streets deserted and communities in hibernation for nearly 15 weeks.

The Bourne in Business Club, which provides a platform and support network for local businesses, professionals and entrepreneurs in and around the town, is trying to build on the united community spirit which has evolved from the lockdown period and encourage more people to shop locally.

“As a club we have a loyalty card scheme called Love Bourne which is designed to encourage the people of Bourne to support the shops in Bourne,” explained BBC chair Paul Ross.

“There have been some very positive things from SKDC as well to help businesses deal with lockdown, including finance for them to re-engage with the public. People have mixed emotions and have been very cautious about coming out, so it was very slow to start with but it is picking up and the first day the pubs were open they were rammed.”

The Mayor of Bourne, Colin Paterson, who was born and bred in Bourne, said it was a difficult period for everyone.

“It is very busy in town this morning and generally speaking most people have been adhering to the restrictions,” he said.

“In my role as town mayor I toured the town to meet and greet shop proprietors and business owners and that went down well. They were appreciative that we were alert to what was happening.

“There are going to be hard times ahead. We are doing our best but we have to breathe an air of positivity and have to promote ideas in a positive way rather than the doom and gloom that we have been seeing.

“Businesses have come through this and are back up and running and we have seen two new businesses opened up recently which is a good sign. More good news is that nail bars and gyms can reopen.”

Mr Paterson was elected mayor on 25th May during lockdown and is also a member of Bourne Town Council.

“It is all about being positive now,” he said. “As a society as a whole, whether it is Bourne, London or Leicester, we have to get on with this new norm. It will be our new way of life. We have to be social but sensible and show each other a bit of respect. It is all about personal responsibility.”

Normally at this time of year Bourne would be participating in the East Midlands in Bloom competition but obviously that is not happening this year but the town council has stepped up to fill the gap.

“We have taken it on ourselves as a town council to enhance the general area,” Mr Paterson explained. “We have 70 to 80 hanging baskets and planters planted up which has added to the ambience and makes the area look lovely. We want ideas to be proactive not reactive. It is a challenging time at the moment and though recovery will be slow it will get better.”

Another sector which was stopped in its tracks by lockdown was the housing market with sales, valuations and viewings all having to be out on hold. Lewis Thorogood from Hill & Clark estate agents in North Street has lived in Bourne for 34 years.

He said: “Bourne has coped relatively well with key shops staying open, which was great. When the lockdown was first lifted on 15th June there was a fresh lease of life and real buzz around the town as the town came together. To open the town back up without losing many shops either is a good thing.

“One or two independents have gone by the wayside and the town generally on the first couple of days back was not quite sure what was going to happen. People were coming into town, doing what they had to do and then going home again.

“But since then we have seen the footfall improve and from the last week when the hairdressers, restaurants and pubs could open, the footfall has increased, which is great to see.”

Lewis said the Love Bourne scheme designed to get independent businesses to work together to encourage people to shop locally was kickstarted by the Bourne in Business Club and SKDC has also really helped to put the spotlight on Bourne again.

“Estate agents felt the pinch as much as anyone because everything ground to a halt,” said Lewis. “We had to adapt quickly to be able to offer a lot of online services, like virtual viewings and valuations but when we came out of lockdown the market was crazy.

“Despite everything going on in the world, people being furloughed and money being quite tight, the housing market has moved forward. There are a lot less products on the market but people are completing and I am pleased to say the housing market has recovered quickly and picked up.

“It has helped the industry a little bit and it has made people take stock and realise it is time to move.”

The first easing of lockdown in June saw outdoor markets able to fully reopen but Bourne was lucky enough to have its market continue to trade throughout lockdown, albeit only fresh produce stalls could operate. Teamwork and community spirit were key to the successful reopening of the markets in South Kesteven as more stalls returned following the Government’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions.

There were eight stalls in Bourne and customers were asked to observe the two-metre social distancing guidelines while South Kesteven District Council placed signs and barriers at key points to support shoppers and traders.

SKDC’s Cabinet Member for Culture and Visitor Economy, Councillor Rosemary Trollope-Bellew, said: “Key to the success of keeping our markets open has been the community spirit and mutual respect and responsibly shown by everyone involved. Like many other businesses, traders have had a very difficult time.

“There is no doubt that keeping our markets running throughout the pandemic stood us in good stead for when the easing of restrictions allowed more traders to attend.”

South Kesteven District Council also supported the reopening of the town centre by extending free parking in its car parks across the district until the end of July. It was initially introduced in March to support key workers and others who needed to make essential journeys by car until 30th June.

Leader of South Kesteven District Council, Councillor Kelham Cooke, said: “Businesses have faced a particularly challenging time over the last few weeks and this is a positive step towards South Kesteven’s economic recovery.

“We managed to keep our fresh food markets running throughout the lockdown because traders, shoppers and our staff worked together. It was mutual responsibility and respect that carried us through, and that is what will determine the success of the reopening of our high streets and town centres.

“Protecting public health and supporting our local businesses are mutually dependent.  Enabling retailers to reopen and people to go back to work is good for mental health and wellbeing for those who work in retail and residents more generally, as well as being good for the local economy. But we can continue to move forward if this is done safely, which means everyone following Government guidance.”

SKDC COMMUNITY HUB
One positive thing to come out of this Covid-19 pandemic is the goodwill and community support that has been shown in abundance by volunteer groups in the district.

South Kesteven District Council is working hard to maintain the relationships built with communities through its community hub by creating long-lasting networks and shaping funding streams to provide ongoing support, as well as evolving its Befriending Service.

Around 55 groups are now registered with the SK Community Hub, established at the start of the crisis and representing at least 1,500 volunteers collectively. Around 300 vulnerable residents receive a weekly telephone call via the council’s Befriending Service staff.

Councillor Annie Mason, SKDC Cabinet member for Communities, said: “We have been absolutely staggered by the outpouring of goodwill and sheer neighbourliness that we have seen during this crisis.

“It surpassed anything that I could have imagined, and we want to make it part of our council DNA. It cannot be seen as a one-off event where all that good work dissipates once the crisis is over and we want to find a way to nurture what those amazing people have stepped up to do.

“Supporting those who give their time voluntarily is something that I feel passionately about and our challenge as a council now is to keep that going in a supportive fashion.

“There has never been a better time to do that and strengthen the incredible relationships between ourselves and the community.”

There are opportunities to continue volunteering right across the district, but, as a first step, SKDC is looking at how to carry forward its Befriending Service.

At its height, the service saw council staff and councillors making weekly calls to nearly 300 of the district’s most vulnerable people, providing what some have described as a lifeline. Some SKDC staff were redeployed to support the service during lockdown as part of the council’s commitment to support residents through the coronavirus pandemic.

Now SKDC is asking volunteers if they can help to carry on the friendly-voice Befriending Service as redeployed council staff go back to their pre-lockdown roles. The volunteers will work closely with established community organisations Evergreen Care Trust and BHive. Training will be provided to all who want to show their support.

SUREMOVE
Businesses of all types and sizes have been affected by the lockdown and many have had to adapt to new ways of working, be it from home or in the workplace.

Bourne’s SureMove Property Lawyers firm has been no exception as director Kelly Fleming explains.

“As a firm we have had to adapt continuously to a new way of working, with the rules altered again, and restrictions relaxed it is all change. I have never written and rewritten the rule book so many times.”

Over the past two weeks Kelly has worked on getting the office in North Street ready so that half the staff can return to work safely. This has included purchasing screens and dividing offices into separate working spaces, so all staff have a safe place to work, have their own equipment, and generally teaching staff how to enter the building safely and how to rearrange their workload for those that work in teams so that they don’t swap files.

“There are no shared facilities such as printers and no access to the kitchen,” said Kelly. “I have generally been reorganising every minute detail of how we have always worked.”

Back at the beginning of lockdown Kelly received a letter about a £10,000 grant but didn’t think it would apply to her firm as staff were continuing to work albeit from home.

“I thought it was only for retail shops, restaurants etc that were closed. But I was urged to claim the monies and received it within 24 hours,” she said.

“Looking back I realise why we were given it, as I have spent thousands on equipment to allow staff to continue to work. So far we have upgraded our staff’s printers three times starting with an inkjet which was not up to the job, then a laser printer for all staff working at home but the toners ran out countrywide and then they were updated again to a business grade laser.” 

She also had to buy screens, sanitisers, thermometers and set up an electronic, no-touch sign-in system. But, Kelly said, getting stationery to the staff working from home was fun.

“My husband, who does home renovations, emptied his van, put the whole stationery cupboard in it, and spent several days a week, driving around Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire delivering paper and paperclips to staff.

“We have been having staff meetings in the car park even in the rain and team meetings every Wednesday using Zoom.”

Despite the lockdown in March, SureMove has been flat out throughout.

“In the early days, it was crazy getting staff set up at home and supporting those clients that were already committed to moving home and half way through the process, which was very stressful for all,” Kelly said.

“Ten weeks in the housing market reopened and business went crazy, on top of that all those clients that had to put their transactions on hold for 10 weeks came back to life.

“There has been no letup in the last 17 weeks and the staff have been absolutely amazing. Despite all working from home, the team has pulled together and supported each other in ways that I just couldn’t have imagined before, and it is that team spirit that has been our success. 

GRASMERE FARM
One local family run business stepped up to the mark during lockdown to fill the gap when supermarkets ran out of produce.

The Artisan Butchery & Bakery, run in collaboration with Grasmere butchers, opened in the old Burton of Bourne building in West Street at the end of August last year in the format of a weekly pop-up shop. It was only intended to operate until the end of the year but proved to be so successful and popular it is still there.

“The owner of Burtons now works for us and suggested we use his building as a pop-up shop,” explained Grasmere’s founder Stuart Stables.

“They have been a great success and have continued throughout the lockdown. During the lockdown the streets were empty but the shop has been really busy so people have wanted what we had to offer.”

Stuart feels the lockdown has made people realise that supermarkets can run out of food but the local shops keep going.

“The public has taken for granted that there is ample food but the supermarkets have proved they can run out and that has made people stop and think about an alternative.

“They found that local shops kept going and they still had everything available and though the produce might be a little bit more expensive it lasts longer and has a better flavour.

“It is going well and the support we have had from the people of Bourne has been very good.”

The shop is only open on Fridays and Saturdays.

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