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This is how shopping in Kent could change as government says non-essential retailers can reopen on June 15

Retailers across the country are preparing their stores to open with social distancing measure in place next month.

Boris Johnson announced car showrooms and outdoor markets would be able to open on June 1 if it is safe for them to do so.

Kent shops could start reopening from mid-June

But the big news from the daily press conference was that all non-essential retail in England will be allowed to reopen from June 15.

This includes shops selling clothes, shoes, books, electronics, specialist stores such as auction houses, photography studios and tailors, charity shops, gift shops at museums or heritage sites, betting shops, arcades, retail art galleries, mobile phone stores and craft fairs. However, all of these openings are dependent on the government’s five tests being met and only if the retailers are deemed Covid-19 secure.

It's good news for many, but some were eager to open sooner.

Peter Jull from Zoom Photos in Deal said: "Having worked to put in place a one way system, screens and a staff rota ready for what had been intimated would be a June 1 reopening it is somewhat irksome to find that at quite short notice we are to remain locked up for another two weeks."

Guidelines have been put in place for both retailers and customers ready for when they hit the shops.

Peter Jull
Peter Jull

Government advice is for fitting rooms to stay closed where possible and clothes must be managed carefully if they have been tried on.

Contact between customers and staff must be limited and store layouts will need to change to limit customers handling of merchandise. But Mr Jull is concerned with what will happen when shoppers have to queue to get in.

He said: "No one retailer can have control over customers in social distancing queues on pavements and precincts outside premises. It remains to be seen whether there will be any official intervention if the common sense approach taken by shoppers starts to break down when those waiting for an open shop by queuing in front of a currently closed shop can no longer do so."

For businesses, risk assessments will need to be carried out and passed with companies with more than 50 employees expected to publish the results. New hygiene procedures will need to be developed and multiple entry points to the store will be needed if possible.

Any companies who are failing to protect customers and staff could face fines or a prison sentence of up to two years.

Maidstone town centre in lockdown during the Coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Chris Davey
Maidstone town centre in lockdown during the Coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Chris Davey

Town centre management teams and owners of shopping centres have already started outlining how they will support the stores.

Manager of One Maidstone Ilsa Butler said: "Representing town centre businesses, the One Maidstone Business Improvement District welcomes plans for a phased re-opening of trade for Maidstone, after an extended period of uncertainty for many workers and business owners.

"Trading will resume in stages whilst observing correct procedures and maintaining social distancing - One Maidstone is carefully monitoring and sharing official guidelines with town centre businesses, and is liaising closely with partner organisations such as Kent Police and Maidstone Borough Council to share relevant messages and implement necessary systems.

"Our team of BID Ambassadors are once again in operation, patrolling the town centre and working with businesses, staff and members of the public to provide information around regulations and enforcing social distancing, as well as undertaking their usual duties, such as dealing with anti-social behaviour."

The plans were echoed by Lisa Carlson who is part of Canterbury's Business Improvement District.

She said: "We have been talking to lots of businesses and groups in web seminars and trying to help with their concerns and questions because some of the government announcements have been tricky to evaluate. But there is a real eagerness among them to re-open, but in a safe and measured way.

"We have also been talking to those who have been able to stay trading, like Boots and M&S Food, to look at their ways of working and what they have learned.

"BID is now keen to make the city look as welcoming as possible for the return of shoppers, with things like hanging baskets."

Mrs Carlson also revealed that her own organisation, which takes a levy from traders on top of their business rates to pay for city centre improvements and support, has its own issues to deal with and has had to furlough staff and make savings.

She says that bills for its service are still due to go out to traders in October as required by law but BID may have to examine what it is able to provide in the future.

"With things like Christmas lights, we will still be providing them but perhaps have to look at whether we can put on the switch-on celebrations," she said.

But she insisted that BID would be as more valuable than ever in helping to get the city back on its feet and liaising with traders.

Bosses at Fenwick, which is Canterbury's last remaining department store, are working on plans to get customers back.Since its closure in March, following the lockdown, the business has developed its online offer.

Chief executive John Edgar, said: "Understandably we, like many other businesses, have to remain flexible given the current pandemic.

"We are ready and prepared to open our physical stores as soon as the government allows us to, in the meantime our online platform is open and continues to trade strongly.

"The safety of our colleagues and customers is our absolute priority and we have been working diligently in order to make our stores compliant with government guidelines for re-opening yet still give our customers a truly Fenwick experience."

Stickers directing people around Bluewater Shopping Centre signalled the start to social distancing measures and today bosses have revealed further plans to allow the centre to reopen on June 15.

Photos appear to show the one-way system
Photos appear to show the one-way system

Robert Goodman, Senior Centre Director for Bluewater, said: “Extra measures such as one-way access, two-metre distancing, hand sanitisers and extra cleaning will be in place and our security and concierge teams will be available to help manage queuing and capacity.

“FAQs will be added to the Bluewater website soon and, closer to June 15, guests will also be able to check online to see which stores are open. Our social media channels will also be updated with additional information and trading hours details.”

Across the bridge atLakeside, bosses have they willlimit the number of people and cars allowed in, close some parking bays, create queuing zones, install one way systems and floor stickers, and staff will be given PPE and trained in how to ensure visitors stay socially distanced.

Escalators, toilets and keypads will go through 'enhanced hygiene regimes' which were introduced at the start of lockdown to protect those using the essential stores.

At Hempstead Valley in Medway from tomorrow the Sainsbury’s queue will be via the Underground Car Park entrance only.

The complex said: "For access to any essential shops such as Boots, Superdrug, Poundland, M&S, Holland & Barrett, Vision Express and Leightons, please use other alternative entrances located by Argos, TK Maxx or M&S.

"We would appreciate your support in respecting Government’s advice to adhere to social distancing."

Ashford Designer Outlet will also reopen from June 15.

McArthurGlen, which runs the popular complex, said: “Following the UK Government’s latest update we are planning to re-open our six centres on Monday 15th June. The safety and welfare of our customers, brand partners and employees remain paramount and our re-opening is subject to any further Government regulations and guidelines. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates accordingly.”

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