With another lockdown about to begin I went into town to assess the mood. Speaking to several people in shops and cafes there were mixed feelings. Overall there was a sense of having been here once and got through it already: resignation and resilience. There was, however, a marked difference between those that had the protective cover of being part of a chain and those that stood alone.
I got a coffee at the fantastic Rodis sandwich bar. When I worked in London I feasted off places like this but their work chiefly relies on office workers and it has been a tough year for them. Some of their staff are still furloughed from the last lockdown and they found the available grants insufficient to the shortfall. They are remaining open to provide a takeaway service in the month ahead, but there was no hiding that it isn’t what was hoped for and with reduced footfall it is unlikely to pay all the bills.
Further down the High Street I bumped into Mark, the effervescent manager at Connells. Theirs is an entirely different story: they are very pleased with the support the Government has provided for the industry and have had a good year. The office will be shut to the general public for the next month, but they are still getting requests for valuations and their social distancing measures are well-honed enough now to be ready for the challenge.
At the new SH Hardware store I wondered if the owner had read my piece on Redhill being a friendly place as he certainly fits the bill. But for all that, it has been a hard opening year for them. They have already had to shed staff, a fact attributed chiefly to changing shopping habits during COVID. I recently heard Frank Skinnner say he sometimes goes into hardware stores just to admire their orderly displays, and there is certainly something very photogenic about them.
On the notice board in town was a notice for VARB, the local volunteer service. One of our Guild committee members, Paula, has recently been appointed to work on this. There are a lot of things that need doing if we are to all get through this so please do consider signing up if you have some time on your hands. https://www.varb.org.uk
I sat with my coffee and emailed our Guild contact in the Council to ask what could be done for the independents. I got an answer almost immediately as the Council had just published their advice for businesses. It is available here: https://bit.ly/2JzY8OV
At nine o’clock in the morning there was the chill of the first frost in the air. I felt I was saying goodbye to the town again, but decided it was best thought of as a temporary hibernation during which time we must protect ourselves from the hostile environment and wait until we can emerge to prosper again in sunnier circumstances.
In the meantime we make the best we can of it: I wore one of my wife’s homemade masks. Forgive me for mentioning they are available from https://www.facebook.com/HeathersBunting. At only £4 it is not an industry that will make our fortune, but it has given me unprecedented access to the TV remote! But I hope you will understand there is a world of difference between finding humour in a grim set of circumstances and making light of them.
Stay safe. And stay in touch.