Hope and caution - How Thetford is preparing to come out of lockdown
- Credit: Emily Thomson
With lockdown set to end on Wednesday, reporter Emily Thomson headed to Thetford to get a snapshot of how the Norfolk town is preparing.
For David Wortley, who owns The Case Place mobile phone accessory shop in Thetford’s town centre, the last month has been a matter of sitting at home and waiting until his customers can return.
After one of the toughest years for his business and not earning a penny since the start of the second lockdown, Mr Wortley said the next few months will be make or break.
The 51-year-old said: “I have a web shop but we haven’t had one order because people go to eBay or Amazon.
“It’s disheartening and I feel apprehensive coming out of lockdown.
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“I have had the shop seven years now and this has been the worst year ever. My shop is one of the smallest in town – luckily the rent is quite low compared to other units.
“I want to keep going but there’s no point if you’re not going to earn a wage. I would 100pc encourage people to shop local because it's not just me you're supporting it’s the whole town. I really hope everyone can support us as much as they can.”
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Jane James is the owner of Not Just Books, an independent bookshop which has only been open for a few months and has had a tricky start.
In a bid to claw back lost business, the shop will continue its click and collect service as well as offering bookable private browsing sessions and the potential for later openings in the run up to Christmas.
Ms James said: “It has hit us really hard. We specifically opened at this time so it would carry us through the harder months.
“Now, I am looking at a 22-day month in December because it's what the business needs.
“We need to invest that time to reap those rewards and give people the flexibility of shopping when they want to.
“Effectively lockdown has been and lifted, but I'm mindful people are not as confident and don’t want to be out.
“We will close at 4.30pm but you can book a half hour shop to come and browse by yourself. It’s something hopefully that will be useful for some people.”
Now more than ever, communities are being urged to shop local to support smaller, independent businesses which have been hit hard for the second time this year.
Norfolk county councillor for Thetford, Terry Jermy, said shoppers might be surprised by what they could find if they took the time to look.
“This time there is more anxiety particularly around Christmas and how that impacts people trading,” he said.
“Many are concerned whether or not businesses will survive. It was bad enough the first time around, so it was a real blow to be locked down again. It is now important than ever to shop local.
“I often find people are quite surprised by what is available on their doorstep. There are a number of local retailers in the town centre and on the market, where you might find the gift you were looking for.”
But for businesses in the hospitality sector many are concerned the tier two restrictions, which include no mixing with other households inside, will mean considerably fewer bookings in what would have been the busiest time of the year.
Gez Chetal, owner of the Thomas Paine Hotel and restaurant, said: “Lockdown has been an absolute nightmare.
“In tier two while you’re open you don’t get government support. So, coming out of it, it is costing us. I have some bookings coming through, but not what it should be like in December at all.
“We don't have 5pc of the bookings we had last year. It would have been okay until the tier two was announced.
“What I don’t understand is that you can go shopping and I'm sure people will be climbing over each other in shops, but what really hurts is that we are the most controlled industry in this pandemic and yet we are the ones who are being penalised.
“But I am looking forward to reopening on Thursday.”
A steady stream of shoppers could be seen in Thetford’s town centre on Monday despite many closed businesses.
Todd Unsworth, a photographer from Croxton, and his wife Denise Unsworth, were visiting the local butchers.
Mr Unsworth said he is feeling apprehensive about the future, despite coming out of lockdown.
“I have been working night shifts at Baxter Healthcare in Thetford because my business, which is wedding photography, is non-existent at the moment,” he said.
“Coming out of lockdown we will have to wait and see what happens but I don’t see anything happening for the next six months.
“A lot of weddings have been bumped into 2022. This has virtually killed my business.”
Mrs Unsworth is a nurse at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. She believes the three-tier system is a “good idea” and will help keep coronavirus cases down in Norfolk.
She said: “We have Christmas on our doorstep and it’s really important we keep the curve heading downwards and protect our loved ones because I see the other end of the scale.
“A lot of people are disbelieving it is even happening right now, but people need to open their eyes and take a look inside our intensive care units.
“We just need to ride it out until it's safe to come out and lead a normal life again.”
Gavin Mosby, 56, is a kitchen porter at Elveden Inn and has been furloughed throughout the second lockdown.
He said: “I feel better coming out of it so we can get back to some sort of normality plus I work in hospitality so I have been furloughed. It's not been too difficult this time and being furloughed helps, you don’t get full pay but at least you get 80pc.
“I would rather not be in tier two but there is not a lot we can do about that and if it helps, it helps.
“But I am happy to get back to work.”
Lynsey Syme and her partner, Paul Syme, were queueing outside Thetford’s post office, waiting to post a letter to her mum in France.
Mr Syme said: “I feel that the tier two was a cop out from the government.
“To band us all together into tier two especially coming up to Christmas is ridiculous and especially when they are talking about the potential of another lockdown, it seems a bit harsh to be restricting us even more now.”
Mrs Syme added: “Personally, I’m not sure if I could mentally survive a third lockdown.”