A sunny day in Much Wenlock’s town square
But what our small businesses have done during the pandemic goes further than just providing a service. They have also engaged with the community and played their part in lifting our spirits. I’m sure we can all think of a local business owner who went the extra mile in lockdown? Whether that was organising a fundraiser, or simply stopping for a socially distant chat. Local retailers really are the backbone of our communities and if nothing else the crisis has made us value what they offer more than ever before. No wonder so many shoppers changed their habits during lockdown and chose to shop local. According to independent research, more than 75 per cent of consumers believe it is important to support independents at this time. WW! Magazine has always proudly championed small businesses and the incredible entrepreneurial spirit across the county. We urge readers to continue supporting our local retailers to ensure they survive and thrive. As Broseley restaurant owner Andy Dyke says, “If we don’t use them, we will lose them.”
Paddy Ryan’s is as popular as ever!
Market stalls in Bridgnorth’s High Street
Backing the ‘shop local’ message is businesswoman Sally Themans. Five years ago, Sally launched Love Bridgnorth to promote everything positive about her hometown. It demands a great deal of time and energy which she gives freely.
Her Let’s Get Local campaign is an inspirational initiative devised in response to the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on the economy. The message is simple: shop local and support your high street. Eye-catching posters have been printed free of charge for retailers by Bridgnorth Print and displayed around the town to highlight the message.
Sally explains, “It’s reminding people to think about localism when it comes to their shopping habits. It’s very, very easy to just go online and shop with Amazon. I want to stop that money going to Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) and keep it local!”
“Small businesses were all very supportive of the community in lockdown and it would be nice for people to recognise that with their spending.”
“Bridgnorth is a beautiful place to visit and importantly shoppers will not feel crowded. This is where high street retailers have the edge on larger shopping centres.” Sally Themans.
She can cite many examples of how local businesses rose to the challenge of lockdown. For example, Tapas restaurant Casa Ruiz did pre-booked takeaway meals and offered free meals for key workers. Bamboo wine bar made deliveries while other traders like Wool & More and The Perfume Laboratory supplied customers via mail order.
Sally voluntarily kept traders and residents informed and connected. Through a retailers’ WhatsApp group, she updated businesses on the latest government guidelines and schemes available for them. She also created a live directory on Love Bridgnorth so that residents could find out which traders were open or offering deliveries.
Her work has led to Sally being shortlisted for the Valiant Volunteer category in the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce ‘Chamber Champion’ Awards 2020, which recognise businesses and individuals who made huge efforts during lockdown.
Sally, who runs a business coaching consultancy with her husband, says, “I’m thrilled to have been nominated. There were lots of people doing great things and the way I felt I could really help was to keep people informed and reassured through social media channels.”
Matt Spinks and Manjinder Singh-Davgun, Johnson Design Partnership, Bridgnorth
Now, as lockdown lifts, Sally says measures rigorously implemented by retailers make the town a safe place to shop. Some have come up with inventive ways to manage the flow of customers more easily. For example, Alley Katz Toy Shop, Urban Angel, Tea & Roses and the indoor market have installed an electronic traffic light system in their doorways, so customers know they can enter the shop when it’s green but need to wait outside when it’s red. Thanks to local manufacturer Hydrovision, much-needed supplies of hand sanitiser have been made available to the town’s traders, with Sally negotiating a reasonable price on their behalf.
“The key message is that safety is a priority,” emphasises Sally. “Bridgnorth is a beautiful place to visit and importantly shoppers will not feel crowded. This is where high street retailers have the edge on larger shopping centres.”
Something for everyone
If you want an example of a vibrant high street, look no further than the delightful town of Much Wenlock. With its eclectic mix of shops, pubs and cafes and lively markets, there really is something for everyone.
Clive and Lesley Ingram have sold The Copper Kettle, Much Wenlock – happy retirement from WW!
The town’s mayor Dan Thomas says, “Much Wenlock has a wonderful range of shops from ecclesiastical outfitters to a brand new eco shop.”
“You’ve got antiques, galleries, salons, and plenty of different boutiques. You could quite comfortably spend a day here. You can have a fantastic lunch at some of the cafes, then in the evening have a really good meal at one of the pubs, of which we are blessed to have quite a few.”
Sophie Yates, Jack Garmson and Jo Rigby at Foden’s Solicitors’ new office in Much Wenlock
For a gastronomic experience, The Raven is an award-winning high-end restaurant. If it’s a quiet drink of real ale and traditional pub food you’re after, then The George & Dragon is a popular choice. So, there are lots of options in the evening in this friendly town.
“Broseley has a characterful high street where all the traders support each other.”
Jayne Ellis has been busy since reopening Just Jayne in Bridgnorth
The Revd Matthew Stafford is full of praise for the way Much Wenlock businesses went above and beyond to support the vulnerable within the community
Community spirit is part of the fabric of life in Much Wenlock. Folk came forward willingly to help during lockdown under the banner of Much Wenlock Mutual Aid. Out of a population of just 3,000 more than 120 volunteers came forward to assist with shopping, pick up prescriptions, dog walking or simply being a friendly voice on the end of the phone. The mayor was the food bank coordinator and his wife organised a buddy scheme.
“We are hugely fortunate to be able to shop locally in a town that has, on the whole, shown self- sufficiency during lockdown.” The Revd Matthew Stafford, Much Wenlock
Businesses were quick to support the townspeople. For example, butcher Paddy Ryan altered his hours of trade to enable his business to offer a delivery service for those who were shielding.
Dan explains, “They worked so hard, it was like Christmas week every day. They were starting at 3am some mornings and closing in the afternoon to do deliveries. It meant they were there for people who were self-isolating, which I think is absolutely fantastic.
“It was the same with the Much Wenlock Deli which stayed open the whole time and did home deliveries. As mayor I’m incredibly grateful. It wasn’t just the traders either, The George & Dragon did deliveries of food throughout and The Raven too and then the Copper Kettle, all the businesses wanted to help. Let’s rally to them now, the way they rallied to us.”
Above and beyond
The Revd Matthew Stafford also praises the way in which businesses went above and beyond to support townsfolk.
Much Wenlock’s medieval High Street
Graham Hill Flooring, Bridgnorth has taken on a new partner during lockdown – Robert Hall, Carol Newsome, Matt Evans, Chris Fell, Jackie Small, Tim Cox
“We are hugely fortunate to be able to shop locally in a town that has, on the whole, shown self- sufficiency during lockdown. What shops don’t have they will source for customers at very little additional cost. I think we promote an environmentally friendly approach to shopping by encouraging people to shop locally, that can only financially benefit the town and promote the spirit of community that Much Wenlock is renowned for.”
Tourists are vital to the local economy here and Dan looks forward to welcoming them to the town to enjoy its attractions and scenery. There are plenty of lovely walks and places of interest to visit, such as The Guildhall dating from 1540 and the ruins of the priory. With extra cycle racks installed next to the museum, the council hopes more people will travel greener.
What you can expect to get from traders, many of whom are long-standing, is a focus on customer service. They are following all the guidelines on safety to the letter, reassures Dan, while still offering that personal touch. In return, Dan urges people to give them their custom.
“After the pandemic the supermarkets will still be here, Amazon will still be here but the high street may not if we don’t support it,” he warns.
At 28, Dan is the youngest mayor of Much Wenlock and is proud to represent the town, famed as the birthplace of the modern Olympics.
“For me, it’s a range of things. It’s a town I grew up in and that’s really important to me. I wanted to give something back.”
On the move
For anyone thinking of moving up the property ladder, or first-time buyers looking to get on the first rung, now could be the ideal time to buy. The property market has been buoyed following the government’s decision to raise the threshold on stamp duty to £500,000 until March 31.
Nick and Jayne Tart
Much Wenlock estate agent Jayne Tart, from Nick Tart, has welcomed the stamp duty holiday which she says will incentivise people to buy.
“I think what it will do is encourage those people who have got money in the bank to purchase because that money is getting nowhere really and those people in rented accommodation will be encouraged to look at purchasing.”
Although Jayne understands there are still people nervous about allowing complete strangers into their home, she insists it is safe to put your house up for sale.
“As agents we have to follow the guidelines and wear a mask and viewers have to wear one. We’re doing a lot of accompanied viewings so the vendor goes out.
“So, I would say if you are thinking of selling, seize the opportunity to attract those buyers who are out there. I would also say, now more than ever, having a conversation with a local agent that knows their area and is experienced in talking about a house, is crucial. We have had more prospective purchasers ring up and discuss a property with an agent rather than just going on the internet for information.”
Lifting your mood
For many people the chance to get away from it all after weeks of staying at home has been seized upon. A great British break could be just the ticket to lifting your mood after all the doom and gloom.
The iconic Ironbridge
Sharon Haines and Paul Taylor of JCA Financial Services, Bridgnorth – and not forgetting Angel, the chihuahua!!
General manager at Telford Hotel & Golf Resort, Peter Nye, is quietly optimistic as he sees more and more people coming through the door.
He says, “Overall, each week gets better and people seem to be getting more confident. People love to eat, drink and be merry. We are forecasting that in September we will have 60 per cent of regular business back.”
The hotel has recently been accredited by the Safe to Trade scheme which recognises best practice. To be awarded the accreditation the hotel had to demonstrate that social distancing measures were in place, cleaning regimes had been enhanced, risk assessments had been carried out and there were ample supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment). In addition, all staff had to undergo training to ensure they are able to keep guests safe.
“If you come into the hotel you will see quite visibly what measures have been put in place,” says Peter, who has spent 20 years in hospitality.
“You will see the team leading by example and that’s really important. You will see them hand sanitising and maintaining social distancing, and see them regularly cleaning. We’ve also introduced a near contactless check-in experience so you don’t have to stand at the desk.
“But we still want people to come away and enjoy themselves, we don’t want it to feel like a hospital.”
Busy roads in Bridgnorth’s Low Tow
Great night out
This is a sentiment echoed by Broseley steakhouse restaurant and grill owner Andy Dyke. He is keen that those who come to The Butchers Kitchen still enjoy a warm welcome, despite things being a little different to how they were.
“We’re a family business and we’re doing everything we can to make people feel welcome and safe. When you come here you can still smell the grill, the place still has that buzz of a great night out. We’ve had nice feedback from people saying they have walked past the courtyard and seen that it looks safe and not too busy and decided to sit down for a drink.”
Tables are further apart in the restaurant and there are 15-minute intervals between bookings so that diners don’t arrive at the same time. For people particularly nervous, Andy is happy to accommodate them in the restaurant’s upstairs room where they can be separate from other guests. For first time visitors, Andy recommends trying the Tapas dishes with a twist and definitely their signature Scotch egg.
Andy and Nicky Dyke
Mike and Ann are the prefect hosts at The Angel Gallery, Broseley
The restaurant was a labour of love for the businessman and his wife who only opened their doors in 2018. Like all those who live in Broseley, Andy is proud of the town and its rich history which harks back to the Industrial Revolution. A stroll along the charming and characterful high street reveals a wealth of unique shops definitely worth a browse.
“The Butcher’s Kitchen in Broseley was able to deliver 250 free meals to the town’s most vulnerable during lockdown local”
“We have lots of independent traders including a bakery, greengrocer, cafes and pubs. It’s quite an old-style high street and all the traders support each other,” says Andy, who also owns Molly’s Cafe which has outdoor seating and does takeaway and home delivery.
“If you come to Broseley you will definitely get that local touch. The shops are all run by people from the town and they are very knowledgeable if you want information on its history or walks. There are definitely characters and a lot of friendly, jolly traders who are very happy to be back open.”
Like many of the businesses in Broseley, Andy played his part during lockdown and, with the support of residents, was able to deliver over 250 free meals to the town’s most vulnerable.
“We have been here for people during the pandemic and now we really need the support of local people and from further afield. The town employs a lot of local people and so it is vital we can keep trading. It’s important to look after independent traders as you never know when you are going to need them again.”
Just a stone’s throw from Broseley is Ironbridge which is a jewel in Shropshire’s crown. As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution the town is a magnet for tourists from far and wide. The Ironbridge Gorge Museums, located in a World Heritage Site, bring the story of this fascinating area vividly to life and they are once again welcoming visitors.
The riverside garden at The Water Rat, Ironbridge
If Ironbridge’s history runs deep, so too does the resilience of its residents and traders. The pandemic followed devastating flooding but once again the people here have risen to the challenge showing true grit. Determined to carry on, existing businesses have supported townspeople throughout and new ventures have even opened. One such venture is riverside pub The Water Rat. Alex Nicolls is the general manager and also of The White Hart.
“If Ironbridge’s history runs deep so does the resilience of its residents and traders”
He says, “We have been able to sustain 20 jobs at the White Hart and the new business will create 15 jobs.
“Business has been fairly good. The mood among customers has been pretty positive and they are excited to be out again and have reacted well to our measures. When we reopened in July, we were operating at 75 per cent of our normal level and my expectation is that it will be similar for the rest of this year because of people’s changing habits.
“Online feedback has been saying how much customers appreciate our efforts with the distancing and the cleaning routines. It’s finding the balance between giving people that warm welcome and then having to ask for a phone number to put them on the track and trace system, but customers tell us we are getting it right.”
The team at Twickel Dental in Much Wenlock are adapting to the latest NHS guidance
Mike and Ann are the prefect hosts at The Angel Gallery, Broseley
A blinding success
While the past few months have hit the economy hard, business is booming for Paul Morris, owner of Love Your Blinds in Bridgnorth. He estimates that business is up by 30 to 50 per cent compared to the same time last year. He also notes that the value of the orders is higher.
He says, “Customers are wanting more expensive remote-controlled shutters, rather than just a roller blind in a bathroom.
“For our sort of business, which is to all intents and purposes home improvement, people have had three months to think about what they would like to do around the house and a lot of people are spending money on their home. They have cancelled holidays. A typical family holiday costs between three and five thousand and, instead of holding on to that money they have decided to spend it on a kitchen or new conservatory.
“A lot of people in our trade are reporting the same thing. This is almost like the run-up to Christmas and we don’t think it’s a blip.”
Sam Beech opened her Eco shop in Much Wenlock just after lockdown
A pleasurable experience
Keen to get the message out there that visiting our local shops is still an enjoyable experience is Bridgnorth mayor Kirstie Hurst-Knight. She’s been popping into local stores to chat to owners, even stopping to buy a pair of shoes she couldn’t resist.
“Every shop I have visited has been very welcoming. The hand sanitisers are there and the markings are there but it still doesn’t feel clinical.
“So, let’s get local. Let’s support the high street and get the economy going.” Kirstie Hurst-Night, Bridgnorth mayor
Bridgnorth mayor Kirstie Hurst-Knight with Steve Elphick in Kitt Clothing
“Some shops have got flowers and it’s been beautifully done. I understand people’s concerns but independent traders and chain names have got staff on the door monitoring how many people are going in and out and doing it in a nice way and greeting you warmly.
“This town is great and there are some very positive people here.
“Through their simple acts of kindness, small businesses have shown how they can bring people together. They are absolutely our local heroes and at the heart of our communities”
Kirstie praised all the businesses for the way they have adapted to meet the crisis. Reflecting on her son’s 18th birthday celebration during lockdown, she says they were delighted to be able to have curry and cocktails delivered. The whole community, she says, pulled together and that’s what makes Bridgnorth a great place to live and work. When it comes to shopping, Kirstie can’t recommend the town enough.
Chris Borland is hopeful for the future of his relatively new venture
“You’ve got all your fresh produce, a local florist, a local butcher doing veg as well, local bakery and you’ve got fashion as well.
“It’s a friendly town and everyone has a chat. As my Scottish mother would say, you can go into a shop and have a wee blether.
“So, let’s get local. Let’s support the high street and get the economy going.”
For years, high streets up and down the land have been struggling, due largely to the rise of online shopping. But the crisis has sparked something of a renaissance of the high street as shoppers turned to retailers who were able to support them with all their essentials. By displaying ingenuity in how they operated many small independents were able to carry on offering a service.
They also reminded us of the importance of having that personal touch. There’s a lot to be said for service with a smile. Through their simple acts of kindness, small businesses have shown how they can bring people together. They are absolutely our local heroes and at the heart of our communities. What’s What magazine is encouraging everyone to continue supporting them. We firmly believe that if they continue to adapt and play to their strengths – making time for their customers and providing quality goods and unique offerings – independent retailers will flourish in the future.