Non-essential shops in Tower Hamlets ‘not ready’ to reopen on June 15

Pic: Des Blenkinsopp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Independent shop owners in Tower Hamlets are ‘not ready’ to reopen due to lack of safety guidance after the Prime Minister gave the green light to reopen all non-essential shops on June 15 last Monday.

Retail stores Gift Box and Play Box at Box Park have said it is too soon to begin reopening and put necessary measures in place within next two weeks. 

Matyas Hettmann, 40, is the owner of the two independent shops at the Boxpark and does not feel safe reopening before the start of July.

He said: “Our shops are not going to reopen in June. We need enough time to create an environment that is safe and comfortable for ourselves and our customers and June 15 is too soon to implement such actions.

“The main factors in this decision are [that] we need enough time to create an environment that is safe and comfortable for ourselves and our customers.”

Hettman said that when he reopened the sister shops based in Brussels there was still a very cautious approach from customers and before opening his stores he will outline some ‘bare minimum measures’ necessary to consider reopening such as a no-cash policy, basic sanitisation stations and floor markings.

Boris Johnson says non-essential shops to reopen on 15 June via Guardian News on Youtube

In a national briefing last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a roadmap for a gradual reopening for thousands of high streets shops, department stores and work centres starting in June. This announcement came as the Covid-19 death toll slowed at 37,000 over the bank holiday weekend, with new plans to reopen schools today are laid out for reception, year one and year six. 

The Government issued new guidelines on May 25 for businesses to follow once they open. The guidelines outline five ways to keep staff working safely. However, independent shop owners grow weary as the date approaches on short-notice.

Outdoor markets and car showrooms are allowed to open from today given Government guidelines are followed. The guidelines also specify that outdoor businesses and warehouses may reopen.

JasonParis via Flickr

Natalie Pecht is a small shop owner on Columbia Road Flower Market selling plant pots and is also uncertain about reopening in two weeks time after having contacted the council directly.

Pecht said: “There is not much communication from market services and we all need to know what is going on because our business is very much linked to the market and our livelihoods depend on it.

“I probably will reopen before the market reopens but in a way, it is almost not worth it because of the reduced footfall.  I also feel like it is difficult to reopen until things are more relaxed and we can be one metre apart with face masks, for example.”

These new measures are released as the UK hits a total of over 38,000 deaths. Between April 8 and May 25, Tower Hamlets has recorded two deaths. 

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “We’re working with businesses across the borough to support them during this unprecedented challenge. As we move into the next phase of the response to this virus, we will support local retailers and other businesses as they put plans in place to reopen safely. 

“These changes will include measures to protect staff as well as customers, but where employees feel measures are insufficient they can of course raise concerns to their employer and if necessary, the Health and Safety Executive.

“Since March, we have issued more than £66m to small businesses across the borough as part of the Coronavirus Grants scheme and we continue to support them to access local, regional and national funding opportunities to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) said: “Summer is usually the busiest time and we need to be able to trade for as many of the summer months as possible, with safety always at the forefront of what we do.

“BIRA has been supporting members to prepare for re-opening. We have provided a standard template for the all-important risk assessments, made available a signage/communications pack and helped independent retailers interpret the guidelines and regulations. Our members will be ready!”

Tower Hamlets Council said that changes set in place are contingent on the five benchmark measures outlined by the Government. Additionally, these new measures are only in place for those stores that are able to meet the Covid-19 guidelines.

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