Published: 12:16, 12 April 2021
| Updated: 14:08, 12 April 2021
All shops, outdoor pubs and restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and more can finally reopen on Sheppey today as Covid rules are eased across the country.
From today, retailers whose businesses were deemed 'non-essential' can welcome back customers and staff for the first time in months, as can beauty salons, libraries and outdoor attractions such as animal parks.
Tom Creed, manager at Snap Fitness, Neats Court
Over at Neats Court Retail Park in Queenborough, Snap Fitness opened its doors at 8am.
Manager Tom Creed said members had been booking sessions as soon as it was announced the gym could reopen for business. The two-storey premises can normally hold up to 80 but are limited to 40 to ensure social distancing.
One of the first through the doors was Richard Savage who had a workout on a cycling machine.
Across the car park Max Payne, nine, was at the front of the queue with his mum and sister for the 9am opening of Sports Direct.
He said: "I have half-term football club at 9.15am but I don't have any shin pads. The ones I had are now too small."
The store's shoe supervisor Cameron Millington and colleagues were busy sticking new distancing posters to the ground outside the shop in readiness.
He said: "We are all ready and excited to be reopening. Many of us have been on flexible furlough helping with deliveries."
Meanwhile, queues were everywhere in Sheerness with men and women all desperate to have their hair cut.
Richard Miller, 47, from Minster, and Edward Cullum, 94, from Berridge Road, Sheerness, were first in the queue outside Hair Profile in Victory Street.
Richard said: "I went up the other end of the high street and its rammo up there. I'm just hoping this one will open today."
Luckily for him the shop opened minutes later.
Colin Bastable of Capelli Hair Salon, was already on his third customer of the day. He said: "My first text message for a haircut was half-past six this morning just as I was getting out of bed. I have a twelve-and-a-half hour day booked. It's like that all week. I'm going to do six days straight.
"I'm just trying to fit in the world and his dog.We have all our bottled water and are ready for the onslaught. At the end of it we're hoping to be millionhairs."
His customer, retired engineer Eddie Azulay, 68, said: "I've been waiting three months for this. I normally get it cut every five or six weeks because I'm not a hippy any more.
Also in the shop were hairdresser Kim Dann and her customer Alan Jagger.
In Angels, Sinitta Bradish was just starting on her first customer of the day Louisa Paolillo, 31, of Sheerness.
Mum-of-one Louisa said: "I'm so looking forward to this. I haven't had my hair cut since before Christmas. I was getting desperate. This is a godsend."
Sinitta said: "I have a very busy day ahead of me, probably about nine clients. We had our last slot booked this morning with a gent's haircut."
Further along the high street, queues were growing outside Turkish-style Kent Barbers, complete with distinctive barber's pole working again, and High Street Barbers where Andrew Short had been queuing for an hour.
"I'm very desperate," he admitted.
Ray Featherstone, 76, was killing time waiting for his haircut.
He said: "I went into one shop and was told their next vacancy was April 22. So I walked up the high street and found another which has slotted me in for 11am. In the meantime I'm going to have breakfast at the Belle and Lion Wetherspoons pub as it's open again."
Already in there were roofer John Pagett, 34, and his friend Ricki O'Brien.
John said: "It was perfect timing. We were just walking past when they opened the door. It happens to be Ricki's birthday, he's 34 today, so we came in to celebrate with a beer and breakfast. Boris has done us a favour."
Apart from hairdressers, some of the most popular stores reopening were charity shops. Finally people can start recycling unwanted clothes and nic nacs again and pick up a few bargains.
Margaret Gorrie and her friend Raymond Shimmin, both 85, were in town to see what Oxfam had and weren't disappointed.
Margaret said: "I popped in for a cover to keep my legs warm while on the mobility scooter and I was very pleased. I bought this wonderful orange and black blanket and also fell in love with a troll."
Clothes shops were also allowed to reopen. Alas, Bonmarche has closed completely but Peacocks and New Look were open for business along with the gents outfitters Empire.
Manager Stuart Kay said: "We've already had a few customers in. One of our regulars was also in town for the barbers and then paid us a visit - new haircut, new outfit!"
He added: "Obviously, we aren't expecting to be as busy as Bluewater but there are still plenty of people on Sheppey who can't or don't like to travel far. Many are shopping online but you can't beat a shop to check the feel of clothes or to make sure it's the right colour."
Many Island pubs have also adjusted for the new regulations which at present only allow drinking in beer gardens.
The Belle and Lion has always had a garden at the rear but now has additional plastic panels inside to keep customers away from the bar. Customers must log in to the NHS Track and Trace App or fill in a form with their name and number.
The Heights of Alma in Alma Street, Sheerness, has set up a new outside a rear in its back garden and the Charisma cocktail bar in Minster High Street, formerly the King's Arms, has splashed out on an extensive shelter for its drinking area at the back of the building next to Minster Abbey.
At the other end of the Island, Curly's community farm at Bay View has been allowed to reopen again in time for the school holidays so youngsters can view the new piglets and lambs. This week's slots all sold out but the farm is taking bookings for weekends.
The farm is also celebrating after winning a national Social Farms And Gardens award for best involvement of young people. Kyle Ratcliffe said: "The young people are the centre of everything we do at Curly’s Farm but to be recognised for this is truly amazing."