Hopes and fears over roadmap to recovery

From shops to salons, tourism attractions to airlines, companies big and small have been taking stock of Boris Johnson’s plan to guide the UK out of lockdown in the coming months.

Love2Stay glamping – Laura Wilde (marketing) and Chris Skitt (general manager)
Love2Stay glamping – Laura Wilde (marketing) and Chris Skitt (general manager)

Tourism

The announcement that self-catering holiday sites can reopen from April 12 has led to one local business taking £40,000 of bookings in just three hours.

The Prime Minister’s ‘roadmap’ set out a date of April 12 for lifting the restrictions on overnight stays in self-contained accommodation.

While there was frustration from some businesses that it means missing out on the Easter holidays, the level of interest from lockdown-fatigued families shows people are desperate for a chance to relax somewhere that’s not their own home.

Salop Leisure in Shrewsbury will be able to reopen its ‘Love to Stay’ glamping site on April 12, and could be able to open its outdoor adventure centre on March 29.

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Mark Bebb, managing director at Salop Leisure said staff were excited about the prospect of finally being able to plan for welcoming back visitors.

He said: “We are disappointed that we are not open for Easter but we understand the seriousness of the situation and we are looking forward very much to April 12. We understand it needs to be done by the data and not dates and we leave that to people who understand that better than ourselves.

“The glamping will be able to re-open on April 12 to individual households. That is really exciting. People are just desperate to get away.

“Within three hours of the government announcement we took £40,000 of bookings. There is a massive demand and people are desperate to make plans and get away.

“A lot of people are working from home, they are short of the connection with other people and they are really short of getting out and doing what they love.

“Caravanning, glamping, camping, they are very, very important hobbies for people to escape the mundane life at home and do what they want – that can be getting out and cycling for 100km or enjoying walks in the countryside.”

He added: “The only thing from our perspective is we will miss the majority of the Easter holiday, that is a really important time for the industry and we won’t get those two weeks back.”

Hopley’s Family Camping in Bewdley

For campsite owner Justin Hopley, the future is also looking a bit brighter as he has seen a big increase in bookings for Hopley’s Family Camping in Bewdley.

He said: “Everybody wants to change their dates as they had booked for Easter, but have now moved it to later, and we made about 80 bookings yesterday.

“I felt that something was going to happen and while I’m surprised that it’s April, which is earlier than I thought, I’m really happy about being able to plan ahead. I do feel more optimistic for the future as I know the trade will come back as people love camping and caravanning.”

Roger Blake of Liberty Travel in Oswestry

However, for travel agents uncertainty remains, with Roger Blake, managing director of Liberty Travel in Oswestry, saying clarity is essential for the industry.

Under the government roadmap international travel cannot resume until May 17 at the earliest.

Mr Blake said there had been interest from customers since the government announcement, but most wanted more certainty.

He said: “With every piece of news that comes through it has a reaction. It is starting, people are definitely looking at the end of summer to start booking.

“The enquiries have started we are just keeping our fingers crossed nothing changes.

“We still need clarification on if PCR tests will be required and what the rules will be. So many people are treating it with caution. Some times people have had one, two, three holidays cancelled, one after another.”

Visitor attractions

Colleagues and animals at a farmyard attraction can’t wait to milk the venue’s 21st birthday celebrations after the government gave the go-ahead to reopen in April, albeit with Ts and Cs.

Outdoor attractions are among the businesses that can open up again in phase two of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. One of those is Park Hall Countryside Experience in Oswestry, which can open outdoors in early April – but will have to wait until May 17 to allow visitors to see its indoor areas.

Last year the park had to tone down its 20th birthday celebrations due to the pandemic, but owner Richard Powell and colleagues are looking forward to making the most of marking the attraction’s 21st year.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to have a big party,” he said. “Last year was an important milestone, so this year we’ll have to make up for it.”

Lucy Jones cuddling lambs at Park Hall, Oswestry

Richard said he is grateful for the lengthy notice period the government has given ahead of reopening, which he insists is important in terms of knowing what to spend on ordering stock in.

“I think it helps this time because we’re able to plan before certain dates. We know we’re not going to be open before Easter so we don’t have to get Easter eggs in. It helps us manage what we need in terms of stock and what we need to do to prepare.

“We’ll have five weeks of just opening outside. Now we’ve got the road map we’re feeling a bit happier.”

He added: “We’ve got some new attractions that we’re really looking forward to showing visitors. We’ve got a new goat area which should be great fun. We’ll have lots of fun things for our visitors to do outside.”

The director of Dudley Zoo and Castle described the road map out of lockdown – and the delay in reopening – as “hugely disappointing” and “costly” for the attraction.

Under the Governments steps to ease the national lockdown, zoos and theme parks, are set to reopen no earlier than April 12.

Derek Grove, the director of Dudley Zoo and Castle, says the decision did not reflect the “low level risk” an outdoor site such as the attraction poses.

He said the ruling was unfair when parks and open spaces have remained open throughout the third national lockdown.

Mr Grove said: “Reducing the risk of Covid transmission for the safety and well-being of employees, visitors and animals remains our top priority and has been the driving force behind the introduction of new safety measures, procedures and working practices, all of which proved hugely successful last year.

“These included restricted visitor numbers, a pre-booking system, staggered entry and one-way route around the 40-acre site. Frustratingly, this decision certainly doesn’t reflect the low level risk an outdoor site like ours poses.”

Shops

A stationery shop near the Shropshire border has welcomed signs that business will be back to something like normal in the next few weeks.

Manni Massey, who owns G M Stationery in Wombourne, said: “We’re looking to make up for lost time and get ourselves back to how we were before lockdown started.”

Under step two of the roadmap, non-essential retail shops will be among a group of settings able to reopen their doors no earlier than April 12. That means crowds can return to town centres for the first time since early January.

Manni Massey from GM Stationery is hoping to make ‘lost time’

While the announcement means shops such as florists and stationers will be closed for at least another month and a half, it has allowed shop owners such as Mr Massey to begin planning ahead.

He said: “I was expecting the shops to be opened in May after reading about this announcement on social media, so it was good to hear about it being in April. I think it’s a good move as I don’t see the need to close non-essential retail shops as I know people have been out and about anyway. It’s been devastating to have the shop closed as while we’ve tried to do something online, it’s not the same as people being able to come in and physically see what they need.

“The closure has impacted us quite a bit and while we’ve had government support, we really could do with more help as we’ve got rent to pay.”

And a nail bar boss said she had had her first week’s diary practically filled up before Prime Minister Boris Johnson even took to his podium on Monday night.

Tran Chung from Shifnal Nails says she can’t wait to see customers and help them feel glamorous again when salons are allowed to return in April. “Having your nails done can make you feel pretty and confident and put a smile on your face,” she said. “I’m really excited about coming back and so are my customers.” She added: “I was aware we were going to have a big announcement and was going to watch it but during the day I kept getting lots of messages coming through from my customers asking if I know I can come back in April and wanting me to book them in.

“It takes a bit of time to get your head around it all. My first week is getting full. I can now make sure that my shop is ready, that I order in my stock in time and get safety measures in place.”

Hairstylists

The last 12 months have been fraught with hairy moments – and a crimper to the stars is getting ready for a busy few months.

Nick Malenko, of Royston Blythe in Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton, says the shop will probably be open from 9am to 10pm when they first re-open in mid April, barring no disasters with the infection rate. Colleagues will be working round the clock to salvage dodgy ‘covidcuts’ and give people a fresh new look as we prepare, hopefully, for a summer of fun.

Nick is expecting the phones to be ringing with customers desperate to get their locks tended to, and is looking forward to an intense but exciting time.

Nick Malenko and Royston Blythe

“There will be lots to do,” he said. “We’ll have to start getting people in to call the clients and take bookings. They’re saying mid April but that depends on what happens with other things still. It’s been a very different time. If somebody had said we would be closed for half of the year you would have laughed.”

The disastrous home haircut has been up there with banana bread and Joe Wicks PE lessons among the weird rituals of the pandemic period. Skin fades that look like they’ve been cut with a knife and fork, roots emerging as black as night and Dumb and Dumber specials are just a few of the embarrassing barnets we’ve seen.

Sales of scissors and clippers may well have rocketed, then subsequently hats to hide the evidence. But there will soon be no need for Salopians to be crying in the shower as they run their fingers through the remaining strands, as the county’s stylists make their return.

Nick thinks a fresh haircut will help people start to feel themselves again after a torrid year. He said: “I think everyone is desperate to have normal life back. The first lockdown was a lot easier because the weather was amazing and we’d never had a lockdown before. We sort of just got on with it, but I think now people are just depressed by the whole thing. You can have new clothes, but if your hair’s not great, you don’t feel great.”

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