Queue barriers, social distancing marks and extended footways will greet shoppers returning to Stoke-on-Trent’s city centre today.
Around 300 shops in Hanley – 80 per cent of the town’s non-essential retailers – will reopen to customers, as the lockdown restrictions are eased.
Stoke-on-Trent City Centre Business Improvement District and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have been working with traders over the last few weeks in preparation for today’s ‘big reopening’.
This has involved putting in places various social distancing measures to ensure shoppers and workers can stay safe while footfall in Hanley starts to return to something like normal.
Barriers have been installed outside 13 businesses where the BID expects to see the longest queues, mostly in and around Market Square. These include popular shops such as Primark and TK Maxx, along with food outlets such as Greggs and KFC.
At 109 city centre businesses two metre markings have been stencilled on the ground, to help shoppers maintain social distancing while they are queueing up.
And in Huntbach Street, barriers have been installed to extend the pavement into the road, to give queuing pedestrians more space.
BID manager Richard Buxton said the measures would allow businesses to welcome back customers without their safety being compromised.
Mr Buxton said: “The first thought for any of us who work in the city centre is the safety of both customers and businesses. We’ve marked out two metre spacing so people can maintain their distancing from others, and the barriers are there so the queues don’t impact on the major walkways throughout the city centre.
“What we’ve had before has been people queuing with the correct distancing, but they’ve been queuing in lots of different directions.
“So far we’ve got 109 locations with the two-metre distancing markers, and we’ll have 13 locations with the barriers.”
Mr Buxton said the measures had been designed to cope with a ‘best case scenario’ of shoppers returning to Hanley in large numbers – but added that they would be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
He added: “Shops will be reopening on Monday, and we’ll be gauging it straight away. The council has been fantastic with providing us with the authority to do this work. What we’ve done is gone round each business in the city centre and made a decision on the length of the queue that we think will be there and what space will be needed.
“We’ve looked at ensuring total safety for everyone, based on a best case scenario for our businesses in terms of the numbers of people who will be returning.
“We’ve been talking to the city council about the reopening from about weeks into the lockdown. We always knew that at some point businesses would be coming back, so we wanted to have the plans in place and get ahead of the game wherever we could.
“But we all have to remember that this is new to all of us. None of us have ever been through something like this before. We’ve confident we’ve got things correct, but we’ll be on the ground – both ourselves and the city council – to make changes where they’re needed.”
Similar social distancing measures have been put in place in the shopping areas of other town centres in Stoke-on-Trent.
In addition to non-essential retail, this week will also see the reopening of the city’s markets. The indoor markets in Hanley, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton will open from Wednesday, June 17 – Stoke indoor market has remained open during lockdown for essential goods, but additional stalls will be open there from Wednesday.
Restrictions will be in place at entrances and exits, with one-way systems for shoppers and hand sanitisers available.
Stoke City’s community trust team will be out in the markets providing support and advice on the safety measures.
Carl Edwards, cabinet member for environment at the city council, believes that the measures that have been put in place should give shoppers the confidence to return.
He said: “It will be interesting to see what the public of Stoke-on-Trent do once the shops have reopened. I hope they have the confidence to come back into the city centre because the measures that Richard and his team, with the council, have put in place make the city centre as safe as it can be.
“But the priority is, and always will be, the public’s safety. We’re going to have to be prepared to make changes where they are needed.”
One potential change could be in relation to the current ‘two-metre rule’ for social distancing, with a number of businesses and politicians calling for it to be reduced.
Council leader Abi Brown said the authority and the BID would keep an eye on any changes to the guidelines.
She added: “The markings we’ve put on the ground will be topped up, but as they’re designed to eventually fade anyway, that will allow us to make any necessary changes to social distancing guidance.”