Hooray for the high street: shopkeepers great and small
The nation’s favourite stores are ready to welcome us back with clever ways to stay as safe as possible. Here are some reopening tips from a hardware giant that never shut.
Note: this is UK government advice for England only.
It’s good news for both retailers and shoppers because stores can now reopen, provided they follow the Covid-secure guidelines.
It’s the next step in a safe return to business for the high street and a welcome kickstart for the economy. But it will only happen successfully if customers and staff follow social distancing measures and other essential precautions.
From local corner shops to department stores and shopping centres, thousands of firms and their employees across England are eager to return to work. The revenue generated is also essential to the continued funding of public services, including our beloved NHS.
Garden centres, open-air markets and car showrooms are already back in business, with the risk of transmission of the virus lower due to increased outdoor space, making it easier to apply social distancing.
Now retailers selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios and indoor markets are also able to complete their risk assessments and reopen.
Firms have been preparing for several weeks and, to help make sure measures are followed correctly, local authorities will follow up on any concerns from the public with spot checks.
Tough measures are in place for any retailers not sticking to the guidance, including fines.
But faith in England’s ability to open up has been boosted by the encouraging way in which essential shops, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, have traded responsibly throughout the pandemic.
These are the companies that have helped develop best practice for other traders. They’ve displayed awareness posters as a reminder to social distance, made sure objects and surfaces that are touched frequently – such as self-checkouts and trolleys – get regular cleaning and stored items for 72 hours before moving them to the shop floor.
One firm that has been up and running successfully throughout the pandemic is Screwfix. The hardware supplier has kept its 682 outlets open by adopting safer working measures in an attempt to ensure the health of both staff and customers.
Its chief executive, John Mewett, explains how it is now planning to bring thousands more members of staff back to work. He says: “We stayed open throughout the lockdown as the government deemed hardware stores essential.
“A small number of our colleagues remained working to serve our customers, many of whom play an essential role in keeping homes warm, safe and with power. The rest of our colleagues were furloughed.
“As the coronavirus situation has become more stable and our stores busier, we have started to get more staff back to work to ensure that we can provide a great service to our customers.”
Screwfix has already brought over 3,000 colleagues back from furlough and plans to increase the number returning to work throughout June.
Mewett adds: “We want to continue to protect our vulnerable employees and are taking the appropriate measures to support them while isolating.
“To ensure our staff are safe on their return to work, we have put social distancing measures in place instore, at our contact centre and head office.
“We have strictly marshalled customer entry into our stores, with clearly identified and controlled social distancing measures.”
A risk assessment has been carried out across the Screwfix business to try to ensure all its workplaces are Covid-secure.
The firm’s health and safety team has helped it follow UK government guidance, allowing Screwfix to implement further safety measures. There are more handwashing facilities across the business, while protective Perspex screens have been installed at till points and employees are issued with personal protective equipment if they wish to wear it.
There is also an extensive “welcome back” programme, with training and resources for returning staff to make them aware of the safety processes.
5 steps for employers
1. Carry out a risk assessment and share results with staff
2. Put cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures in place
3. Help people work from home where possible
4. Maintain a 2m distance in the workplace
5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, put in place measures to manage transmission risk
Customers will notice some changes too, with contactless click and collect on offer, plus clearly marked entrances and exits for a one-way flow through the stores.
Mewett says: “We have also implemented new safer working measures for our head office and field staff. These colleagues are working from home where possible and using available technology to ensure essential services to the business are maintained.”
While most shops can open, not all of them will be back in action straight away. Hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons, as well as hospitality businesses, are shut for now because their levels of person-to-person contact mean a higher risk of transmission.
Anyone running a business can find out about their eligibility for coronavirus support schemes by searching for the UK government’s Business Support Finder tool, which takes just minutes to complete.
More Covid-19 secure guidance to support businesses to reopen is available at gov.uk
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