Friday 9th April 2021 – As I walked through the town this morning there was a palpable feeling of excitement in the air. Wherever I looked I could see activity in commercial premises that have been closed for so long, lights were on and people were moving about inside. This was more than a spring clean, this was people working flat out getting ready to welcome customers back into their businesses for the first time in months.
The cold of a dull overcast morning gradually gave way to warm sunshine and with it the smiling faces of people working hard and looking forward to Monday. With my trusty camera I tried to capture some of the activity taking place and was able to speak to people about how they were feeling about Monday 12 April 2021 and the big reopening.
Monday will see the return of all retail, personal care, libraries and community centres, outdoor attractions, indoor leisure including gyms for individual use only, self contained accommodation, all children’s activities and outdoor hospitality. This is a big step and it was interesting to hear the range of feelings expressed in anticipation of the moment when people are once again allowed back. For some it was a feeling of excitement whilst for others it was a more guarded and slightly anxious feeling that was being expressed.
In preparation for the big reopening I witnessed all kinds of activity taking place ranging from simply removing the Christmas window displays; mopping and dusting down and replacing them with summer ones; finishing off major internal reorganisations and refits, and external decorating and rebranding. Everything looked very familiar but when you looked closely changes were apparent. Whether it is barnets, bosoms or books there are shopkeepers in town looking forward to greeting and serving you once again. On a personal level I can’t wait to have a look in the new Cilla & Camilla Cookshop, and sample the food that amazing local chef Andy Tyrell is going to be serving up in his latest venture as the new co-owner of Soulshine.
All the time these businesses have been closed, they have still had to meet the cost of rent, rates utilities and of course staff. I know that some landlords have been extremely supportive by giving rent holidays and reductions in order to help tide people over until they are able to begin trading again. It is now up to us to wean ourselves of on line trading whether it be with some local shops or giants like Amazon and John Lewis and shop local once again. The next couple of years are going to be pivotal in shaping our high street. Where you spend your pounds will ultimately be the key factor in how it will look.
Monday 12th April 2021 – what a difference a couple of days make. My walk around town this morning was amongst a lot of happy shopkeepers and eager customers. The town was positively buzzing by 10.30. Behind the masks I could tell by the twinkle in their eyes that people were smiling, enjoying a little bit of freedom, and greeting each other warmly like long lost friends. It was a lovely atmosphere and to top it all the sun came out.
It was great to see people sitting outside cafe’s once again enjoying a morning coffee and chatting away. My wife I enjoyed an excellent coffee and Portuguese Custard Tart (Pasteis de Nata) sitting in the sun outside Baboo Gelato. Snooks window is once again filled with hats; Smith and Smith have a string of hearts hanging on their door spelling out welcome; hairdressers and barbers everywhere were busy and Steves and Gunz both had men queueing in the street to have their lockdown locks shorn. Bucky Doo Square was busy and it was great to see the TIC open once again with familiar friendly faces ready to serve and advise behind the now familiar perspex screens. You will be pleased to know that I managed to check out the new Cilla & Camilla Cookshop and very impressed with the wares on sale I was.
Today was a day for local people to come out and enjoy the town’s reawakening from a very long period of enforced restrictions triggered by the surge in covid-19 infections in the run up to Christmas. It was great to see so many people out and about, spending money, wearing masks and conducting themselves sensibly. This is exactly what we need to continue to do if the high street is to continue to thrive, and the virus is kept at bay.
In the coming weeks we will be joined by our summer visitors, looking to enjoy this beautiful area and recharge themselves after their own period of lockdown. I know many local people have reservations about our visitors and the impact they have. Whether we like it or not Bridport and the surrounding AONB is a tourist area and the revenue brought in is a vital part of the local economy. A huge number of people who now call Bridport home have moved here for the same reason that tourists visit. Who are we to deny them that same all be it temporary opportunity? If we embrace them and make them welcome they will respect us and the area so much more.