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All change as Shrewsbury's shopping centres prepare to reopen

By Mark Andrews | Shrewsbury | Business | Published:

Shrewsbury's shopping centres are preparing to welcome back a ‘new normal’ with numbers restricted and social distancing in place.

Security officer Craig Jones at the entrance to the Darwin centre

Staff at the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside shopping centres today revealed the steps being taken before the opening up of more shops from next week.

Capacity limits will be strictly adhered to and a number of measures have been adopted to keep people safe.

A similar process is being carried out in centres across Shropshire, where only essential shops have been open in lockdown.

Security staff at the entrances to the centres will manage numbers and ensure no large groups congregate.

WATCH: Guidance from Shrewsbury shopping centres

Shrewsbury Shopping Centres - Safe Shopping Centre Guidance Animation

Hand sanitisers are being installed, seating is being removed and signs are being laid out to help shoppers maintain their distance from others.

Shopping centre manager Kevin Lockwood said it was a relief to be able to prepare for the return of shoppers as stores are given the go-ahead to open up.

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But he urged people to be patient and to expect queues when they venture into the centres.

Shopping centre manager Kevin Lockwood outside the Darwin Centre

He said: “We are relying on people to be sensible. We have also introduced new cleaning measures at contact touch points, such as lift call buttons and escalator handrails – they will be cleaned much more thoroughly.”

While shops can open on Monday, food outlets must wait until a later date. Ministers are also considering relaxing Sunday opening times to help retailers.

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The lights are on, but no-one's home

There's a strange silence walking around Shrewsbury's deserted Darwin centre. Mid-morning, there would normally be hundreds of people milling around the shops, today there's a handful of workers preparing for the big reopening next week.

Like many shopping complexes up and down the country, the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside shopping centres are due to reopen on Monday, and manager Kevin Lockwood says staff have been working for weeks to prepare them for big day.

It won't be business as usual. Before the lock-down, on a good day the Darwin Centre alone would see up to 14,000 people go through its doors, after lockdown, when just the M&S Foodhall and Home Bargains remained open, this fell to just 400. Mr Lockwood is hoping for a healthy number of people returning to the centre, but there will be strict restrictions on how many are allowed in at any one time.

The empty malls of the Darwin Centre will once more be welcoming customers next week

"In the Darwin Centre we are allowed to have up to 3,600 in the mall at any one time, in Pride Hill it is 1,600, and in Riverside it is 2,500," he says, adding that these figures do not include those actually in the shops.

If the limits are met, security staff at the entrances to the centres will stop customers from entering until others have left.

From Monday, most of the 94 shops across the three centres will be open once more for business, and in preparation a number of changes have been made.

One of the first things they will notice is the absence of any seating areas.

Decals advising people about social distancing have been applied

The seats outside Costa coffee have been removed, leaving a strange, empty quadrangle surrounded by fencing.

"Costa will be operating a takeaway-only service," says Mr Lockwood. "We have also removed the mall seating to maximise width, we are trying to maximise mall width."

As shoppers enter the centres, a member of staff will point out the recently installed hand-sanitiser dispensers, and advise them about the need to maintain safe social distancing. Decals have also been applied to the floor reminding shoppers about this.

"We haven't put two metres on the signs, because the social-distancing guidelines might change, and if they come down to 1.5 metres we won't have to spend more money," says Mr Lockwood.

In Pandora, staff wearing face masks can be seen preparing the shop for reopening. Mr Lockwood says it will be up to the individual retailer to impose its own rules inside its premises, and this will in turn mean limits on the number of people allowed in at any one time.

Hand-sanitiser dispensers and new signs advising about social distancing

"It will mean there may be queues outside the shops at times, and it is up to us to manage that," he says.

Demarcation ribbons have been installed to separate people using the escalators, and signs advising people to keep their distance have also been installed.

The lifts have proved a little more complicated, and Mr Lockwood says it will be a case of relying on people to use their common sense.

"We could be prescriptive and say only two people are allowed in the lifts at any one time, but if a family of four then comes along, it obviously wouldn't be right to split them up," he says.

"We are relying on people to be sensible."

Signs advising about social distancing on the escalators

The entrance linking the centre to the bus station has been shut since the flooding earlier in the year. But workmen are now in the process of repairing the damaged escalator, and Mr Lockwood says access will be restored ready for the reopening.

"We have also introduced new cleaning measures at contact touch points, such as lift call buttons and escalator handrails, they will be cleaned much more thoroughly," he adds.

Mr Lockwood, who has been running the centres for the past eight years, says the management team has spent several weeks talking with tenants about the measures that will be needed.

Some retailers will have screens to shield staff from customers, and contactless payment will be encouraged. Some retailers, such as Primark, have placed social distancing markers outside their shops telling people where to stand while queuing.

Housekeeper James Halbert will be ensuring all areas touched by shoppers are kept clean

"Where this has been done, we have made sure it is as close to the front of the shop as possible, so it will not affect the queues outside other shops." says Mr Lockwood.

He says there has been clear guidance from government about how to keep shoppers safe, and everybody knows what needs to be done.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming customers and some of our retailers back to the centres, however the health and safety of our tenants, staff and visitors will, as always, be our top priority," says Mr Lockwood.

“We ask people to keep their distance, keep their hands clean, to shop alone if possible, and to use the escalators rather than the lifts if they are able to. "And, before entering individual stores, we want to remind people to check their specific safety guidance."

New signs give instructions about social distancing

One advantage of the lock-down is that some of the improvement work that began earlier this year has been able to continue while the shops have been shut, and it is on course to be finished by October this year.

The Meg Hawkins art shop has also used the opportunity from Pride Hill to a larger unit in the Darwin Centre, which will be opening for the first time on Monday.

The toilets in the Pride Hill Centre will remain open, but with reduced occupancy levels and a queueing system in place. The children's rides, cashpoints and photo-booths will be shut until the Government advises it is safe for them to resume.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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