‘Wildly inconsistent’ - how are Norwich shops coping with new coronavirus rules?
- Credit: Tom Chapman
Just as we began to enjoy many of life’s simple pleasures again, there came a new set of coronavirus rules to digest.
Pubs, bars and restaurants were limited to table service and instructed by the prime minister to shut at 10pm.
The nation’s workforce was once again told to do their jobs from home, where possible, and face masks were made compulsory for bar staff, waiters and shop workers.
As the prospect of fans returning to live sporting events grew tantalisingly close, plans were shelved and supporters told they would have to wait a while longer to cheer on their teams.
While not as strict as the measures seen during the first nationwide lockdown, some see last week’s announcement as the first step on the road towards a second.
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So, how are Norwich’s shoppers, workers and businesses coping with the latest restrictions?
Cata Parrish, co-owner of Re.Source on Timber Hill, said trade at the general store has been “wildly inconsistent” in recent weeks - but believes the unprecedented circumstances mean nothing is predictable.
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“This week has been really quiet, but honestly tomorrow could be really busy and the day after could be dead - there is just no way of telling,” said Ms Parrish.
“What I’m seeing now is a little bit like what we saw as lockdown began, in that people are buying a little bit more than usual. It’s quite gentle but there is a difference.
“In a way, the inconsistency of our trade makes perfect sense. No-one knows what’s going to happen, so it’s really difficult to plan. One day someone might think ‘everything’s going to be fine’, and on others they think ‘I need to stock up’.”
Survival, says Ms Parrish, now rests on expanding Re.Source’s online offering, which proved to be a key tool in the armoury of fellow shop owner David Finlay during lockdown.
Mr Finlay, who runs clothes shop Elements, on Lower Goat Lane, believes a combination of factors have resulted in mixed fortunes since reopening.
“When we first opened up again, the first six weeks were very busy,” he said. “Things settled down a bit when pubs and hairdressers came back, and hot weather meant people simply weren’t out shopping.
“Since then it has been quieter, but I think the rubbish weather and issues with suppliers have had something to do with that. The general feeling in relation to Covid has had an impact too, but it’s hard to gauge.
“What we haven’t had is the usual influx of students. They would typically be investigating this area at this time of year.”
Across the street, Biddy’s Tea Room has been fully-booked every day and - on the face of things - enjoying a roaring trade.
But the main issues, says manager Anna Coull, stem from the implications of enforcing social distancing.
“It’s difficult for us because we’re still at 50pc capacity which means we haven’t got as much staff as we’d like,” she said. “Being limited to table service, we’ve had to stretch what staff we have even further.
“We’re busier when the tables outside are in use, but with the rain it’s a bit quieter which has actually been nice.
“We’re getting there but ultimately still working out a way to handle everything.”
Tighter rules on face coverings were among the biggest changes introduced last week, and signs suggest the majority of people in Norwich have adapted with minimal fuss.
One of the retail jewels in the city’s crown, Jarrold, says it has seen a “positive response” from customers, with “full compliance” in all its stores.
Lynne Kerr, who lives in Costessey, is one of millions of shoppers who have had to adapt to the largely unfamiliar practice of donning a face mask - but says she is still comfortable visiting her favourite stores.
“Generally it’s okay, but I’m not doing too much time in each shop at the moment because it’s a little bit too hot and uncomfortable,” said Mrs Kerr.
“Things have improved over the past week or two - more people are wearing masks, but there are still quite a few people that don’t. It doesn’t bother me because I’ve got mine on.
“Overall, I’m quite happy as things are. Things now are nowhere near as intense and there’s a lot more freedom. The restrictions are more regional and we’re pretty lucky here.”
Trevor Thompson, visiting the city from Fressingfield, near Harleston, said those choosing to not wear masks should consider the long-term consequences.
“Wearing a mask is not a problem for me - it’s sensible,” added Mr Thompson, 58. “Restrictions such as that aren’t the issue - it’s people’s unwillingness to abide that’s the problem.
“Put it this way - if you don’t like how you look in a mask, what are you going to look like when you’re on a ventilator?
“Shopping has become a bit of weird experience but, for me, I just want to come and do what I’ve got to do, and then leave.
“People are giving each other space, so things are absolutely fine. It’s better than having a complete lockdown - the situation is in our hands.”
Caroline Block, who runs Oh So Sweet on White Lion Street, said around 80pc of customers had been wearing coverings - but revealed some isolated incidents had changed the shop’s policy on enforcing the rules.
The 39-year-old added: “We got a bit of abuse in the beginning when we asked people to wear them, so we decided it wasn’t our place to confront people. Most will have a reason not to wear one.”