From shops, to pubs, hair salons and gyms: How Shropshire is preparing for another big reopening

The wait is almost over. After more than three months, doors to shops, hair salons and gyms will all reopen tomorrow.

Maurice Cooney at Alpha Athletic
Maurice Cooney at Alpha Athletic

Visitors can return to outdoor tourist attractions and enjoy a break away in self catering accommodation.

And, while we may not be able to go inside yet, pubs and restaurants can serve up pints and meals in their gardens or on pavement tables.

Owners and staff say they simply can’t wait to be back welcoming customers and clients through the doors.

Many have used lockdown to give their premises a facelift, whether that’s a complete refurbishment or simply a new colour scheme and say they hope their hard work will be appreciated.

Owners of cafes and licensed premises have their fingers crossed for good weather and it seems it may oblige. While winter woollies may be needed in the evenings there is no rain forecast for at least next week.

The weather forecast will suit families as children and teenagers enjoy the second week of their Easter holidays with a little more freedom to explore the county, enjoy some of the attractions have a meal outside - and get a haircut and new clothes for the start of the summer term.

Staff at The Highwayman keen to 'stand and deliver' again

Sam Hart at The Highwayman

“We are desperately looking forward to being back at the heart of the community again.”

The manager of The Highwayman in Oswestry, Samantha Hart, said she and the staff couldn’t wait to open the pub garden on Monday.

“We simply can’t wait to welcome all our customers back,” she said.

She and the staff have been busy for the past few weeks making sure that the extensive beer garden at the Highwayman was ready for the opening.

“We are very lucky that we have a beautiful beer garden and we have been working hard on it,” she said.

“There has always been a nice atmosphere there and we wanted to ensure that that continued. Above all customers will be looking for cleanliness.”

Staff have power-washed the patio and up-cycled the furniture.

“What I like the most are the lovely toadstools that we have created,” Samantha said.

Love

“We also have our great children’s playground which will be open with numbers using it restricted.

“We have such a lovely team here and we are all very excited about getting back to work and welcoming all our customers back. I can’t thank them enough, they have worked so hard.”

Samantha moved from London to Oswestry to become manager of the Marstons pub on the Shrewsbury Road.

I have been here four years and I absolutely fell in love with the town. I really wanted The Highwayman to become the hub of the community and we are excited about returning to become just that from Monday.

“There is nothing we can do about the weather, we can’t offer customers blankets because of the Covid risks but we have got umbrellas. But I hope that people will wrap up warm and come along.

“Everything has changed with Covid and I am sure that people will find it fun and exciting to sit outside with friends or family and have a meal somewhere else other than at home.”

Samantha said that when the pubs first reopened after the lockdown last spring the Highwayman did reduce its menu but there had been no reductions since then.

Shops are just ‘raring to go’

Shez Sivri makes the final touches ahead of opening Inocencia in Shrewsbury

Non-essential shops have been stocking up and adding the finishing touches to their displays as they prepare for what they hope will be a busy spring and summer.

It has been a tough year for traders, but with the roadmap providing light at the end of the tunnel, they and their staff are looking forward with optimism.

Designer clothing store Inocencia, in Castle Street, Shrewsbury, will be “raring to go” today, and boss Shezz Sivri told how he and staff have been preparing.

“We’ve got to change the store completely and put in the spring and summer stock. We will be raring to go and hopefully people will want to come and get their summer stuff,” he said.

Given that people haven’t had dates, nights out or events to go to for several months, it is likely that many shops will have struggled. A couple of calculated gambles helped Inocencia do well online, but nothing will beat having customers through the door.

“This latest lockdown has been more successful for us,” said Shezz.

Important

“People have been making a conscious effort to shop local and support local businesses. That has been important because without it we would have been on the brink. We’d have been struggling to keep afloat.

“There was a big increase in sales of leisure and loungewear. We normally wouldn’t sell as much and people would be buying more clothing to go out in.

“We order our stock six months in advance, and we took a bit of a gamble in the hope that we would be out of lockdown by ordering in more going out clothing.”

Flags, bunting and posters will bring a carnival atmosphere to Shrewsbury as the town prepares to reopen on Monday.

There will be splashes of colour all around the town as Shrewsbury comes back to life. The Shrewsbury’s Open campaign, run by Shrewsbury BID and co-funded by the Shrewsbury Recovery Taskforce, will see a range of events taking place to ensure the town centre is safe and welcoming, in line with any national restrictions.

Shrewsbury BID is working with The Hive to provide live theatre, creative art and other events which will take place outdoors in a safely-managed environment. And a musical backdrop will be provided by a variety of local musicians who will perform at various spots throughout the town to add to the positive atmosphere.

Jonathan Soden, owner of The Soden Collection and director of Shrewsbury BID, said a lot of work was going in to making the summer a success.

Hairdressers inundated with appointments

Helen Turner, manager of Quintessential Hair and Beauty, Ludlow

After months of waiting, Shropshire residents will finally be able to get that fresh cut and colour as hairdressers reopen on Monday. People across the county have been desperately waiting for hairdressers and barbers to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown.

One hair salon in Ludlow received 99 phone messages in just one day for people wanting to book appointments.

Helen Turner is the owner of Quintessential Hair & Beauty on Upper Galdeford, Ludlow, and said her personal schedule is already fully booked with clients until mid-May.

“I went to the salon this morning and there were 99 messages on the phone,” Helen said. “I am ready to get back to work.

“Our clients are not just clients, it’s all personal they have become friends so we are looking forward to seeing them. It will be good to get our creativity back and working.

“We also want to show people what we can do – in lockdown we have done lots of training online with our staff. So now we want to show what we’ve learnt.

Can't wait

“All my team have been dying to get back to work.”

Customers at Helen’s salon will be expected to wear a mask, along with the staff, and stations will be fully sanitised between clients.

She said: “It’s the safety of not just the customers, but my staff as well that’s important.

"I have been putting safety aspects into place today, making sure we can all be safe so we stay open.

“We just can’t wait to start, to get those scissors working again. I myself am booked up until mid May.

“There has been a bit of stress because of new rules coming out for the industry, for example people must have a 48-hour skin test before colouring now, and people don’t know this so we have to make sure these rules are in place.”

Just wild about opening gates

Ieuan Howells and lemurs at Hoo Farm

It managed to open for two days this year before lockdown hit, but a major county visitor attraction has a whole new look ready to welcome people back on Monday.

Hoo Farm has used the shutdown well, taking the time to complete a two-year ambition to expand the site and become Hoo Zoo and Dinosaur World – with the addition of 15 massive model dinosaurs, 13 of which are animatronic.

Will Dorrell, partner at the Telford site, said they had been fortunate that a successful summer after last year’s first lockdown had left them in a good position ahead of the latest three-and-a-half month shutdown.

He said: “We are very lucky, We had a very good summer which helped through a difficult period so we can’t complain when you look at some places that haven’t been able to open for 12 months.”

He added: “Even though it has not been great for the bank balance we have used this time to upgrade some of the areas that are very difficult to do when we are open.”

That includes the long-term ambition to expand the site to add dinosaurs, using an area not previously open at the zoo. Mr Dorrell said: “Alongside animal welfare and conservation, education is something we’re extremely passionate about and the decision to create our very own ‘Hoo-Rassic World’ ties into that.

Attention

“With 15 full size moving dinosaurs – and other ancient beasts – spread throughout a woodland walk and prehistoric related activities throughout the day, alongside our normal animal filled timetable, we are really enthused about this next step for Hoo Farm – now Hoo Zoo.”

He said Hoo-Rassic World was a project that had been on the go since 2019.

“Last year we decided to take the plunge. With all the uncertainty about it was very nerve-wracking but we are at the point where we can’t wait for people to come and see them.”

The restrictions mean that the site, which had a maximum capacity of 3,000 pre-Covid, will be able to welcome 700 visitors a day – with pre-booking essential. Mr Dorrell said that as well as being welcomed by staff, the return of visitors will also be a bonus for some of the attraction’s more attention-seeking animals.

He said: “The meerkats have really missed the attention and because of that our keepers have had to go in more often and give them more attention themselves.”

There is no break planned for the attraction either, with the plan being to open seven days a week until the end of November.

Welcome break in the country

Manager Philip Brick, with 'Sprout' the dog, at Hurst Farm Cottages, Aldenham, Bridgnorth.

It has been a “frustrating” 12 months for those in the tourism industry, but holidaymakers will soon be revisiting their favourite locations and adventuring to pastures new.

One of the many destinations ready to open its doors in Shropshire is Hurst Farm Holiday Cottages, which has been based in Aldenham, near Morville, since 1998. The family-run business nestled in rural Bridgnorth will be welcoming back visitors from Monday, with owners saying they feel the time is right having implemented various measures including a virtual check-in.

“We’re certainly looking forward to returning to some form of normality,” said Philip Brick, who helps run his family’s fishing, farming and accommodation business.

“A lot of our guests are, now more than ever, emailing us to say how excited they are to be coming. It’s such a positive and I think people are ready – they desperately want to take a break.”

The six cottages had been opening and closing in line with government restrictions throughout the pandemic and saw major inconvenience over the Christmas period.

Philip, 48, said: “When we first went into lockdown there were lots of concerns and cancellations from worried guests who had questions when there wasn’t always answers.

Great

“We were in limbo for a while, which was tough as we didn’t know how things were going to turn out. The most frustrating time was at Christmas – we were full but thought we would have to close so we cancelled everyone’s stay.

“Then it was all back on so we phoned everyone up, rearranged the plans and organised the appropriate cleaning staff, only for it to have to close once again.”

Philip said he felt the rurality of the cottages, which provide visitors with their own outdoor area, lent itself to working in a post-pandemic environment.

“We have a big open area so social distancing really takes care of itself,” he said. “You can park privately and have your own patio, plus the free fishing lakes for guests and farmyard animals on site provide a great reason to get outside in the fresh air.”

He added: “I think it is safe for the industry to reopen. With the vaccine I think we’ve reached the point now where as long as people take care and exercise caution there is no need to be worried.

“When our guests leave we now ask them if they can strip their bed and leave all the doors and windows open and touch point such as door knobs, surfaces and light switches are sanitised twice between each use.”

Getting back to fitness in gym

Maurice Cooney at Alpha Athletic

It’s official: gyms will be able to reopen again from next week and fitness enthusiasts will be able to get back to something resembling their old exercise routines.

The gym sector is one of the many industries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and successive shutdowns have hit owners and trainers hard, as well as the many people who rely on regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental health.

But for at least one owner, the most recent lockdown has provided a small silver lining – the opportunity to get work done around the building and plough more money into new equipment.

Maurice Cooney is the owner and founder of Alpha Athletic in Newport. He was on tenterhooks earlier this week waiting for the Prime Minister’s confirmation that England could take its next step on the coronavirus ‘road map’.

Step 2, as the Government has called it, is due to be taken on Monday. It means the reopening of “non-essential” retail outlets, public buildings, most outdoor attractions and indoor leisure facilities, including gyms.

“It’s a massive relief, we were waiting for that announcement from Boris,” said Mr Cooney. “Everything with the road map was going to plan so we were pretty confident they would stick to it.

“We’re pretty much ready to rock and roll, we’re just waiting for a few more bits of equipment.

Confidence

“It’s going to be open from 6.30am. I’m usually there from about 5.30am getting set up, and my first appointment is 6.30am.

“We’ve invested close to £50,000 this last lockdown, I decided to go all in on it. The lion’s share of it has gone on new equipment and the new leg room, that is the jewel in our crown, really.”

Money has been spent on new specialist equipment, including new leg training machines, and on new indoor artwork.

Standards of cleanliness and hygiene will be maintained too, to mitigate the risks of any Covid-19 outbreaks. Visitors can only attend on their own or with members of their own households, and medical grade hand sanitiser will be readily available.

Mr Cooney said he was aware some gym-goers may be wary of returning already, but that he was confident in Alpha Athletic’s standards.

“There was always that concern we’ve lost some consumer confidence.

“I’m just raring to go.”

The new rules dictate that “indoor leisure facilities, such as gyms and swimming pools, will also reopen – but only for use by people on their own or with their household”.

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