Grounds for optimism: how high streets are emerging from the pandemic

With the UK’s vaccination rollout appearing to be effective and the government’s reopening plans now scheduled for mid-July, we assess sentiment in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

“During uncertain times, the key to success is being proactive in your approach,” explains Mohammed Patel, CEO of independent nursery retailer Kiddies Kingdom, which is based in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. “Things have escalated rapidly over the past year, so we’ve had to ensure we’re always looking forward to predict what might happen next, with the idea to put processes in place to mitigate anything that might arise.”

As a retailer, Patel is one of many business leaders who is hoping that the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme manages to successfully bring the pandemic – and the challenging Delta coronavirus variant – under control. As we all know, this will be key to the government’s ability to fully lift coronavirus restrictions this summer.

Government support in the Budget

After an exceptionally challenging year for retailers, hospitality providers and leisure businesses, the government is continuing to provide support for the hardest-hit firms. In March’s Budget, chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the furlough scheme will continue until the autumn, while the current business rates holiday in England is also being extended until the end of June, with a discounted rate applying for the rest of the 2021/22 financial year.

For hospitality firms, the lower 5% VAT rate will remain in force until the end of September, with a special 12.5% rate applying from then until April 2022.

It’s people that make a business successful. A year is a long time to endure so much instability, and people’s priorities have changed

Jonathan Reed, Managing Director Paddy & Scott’s

In addition, businesses in England that were forced to close their doors will be able to claim cash grants through the Restart Grants scheme.

These measures have largely been welcomed by industry bodies. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, says support for retailers has been “vital to reviving the economy”, adding: “The third month of rising sales will be welcomed by retailers who are still recovering from months of lockdown, during which many were unable to open stores. The reopening of hospitality provided additional impetus for many of us to hit the streets, particularly as the summer weather began to kick in.”

Ollie Lloyd, director of Catering24, a Derby-based supplier to the hospitality sector, says Restart Grants of up to £18,000 for hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses have been particularly welcome. “They have given business owners confidence to relaunch their business at full capacity with staffing and catering supplies,“ he says. “For cafes, restaurants, and street-food traders, it has made for very positive reading.”

Lessons learned from the pandemic

One of the key lessons that firms have learned from the pandemic is to be more agile and dynamic, Fort says. “For example, we’ve been working with the owners of a country house hotel during the pandemic who have invested their own money into the building and its grounds. They’ve done this because they see potential with the pent-up demand there is for the likes of christenings and weddings.”

Kiddies Kingdom’s Patel says the pandemic has provided the opportunity for his business to modernise. “The future of retail is online, so we believe having the best processes to accommodate for this is vital. We introduced virtual shopping appointments, which have given us the opportunity to reach out to both existing parents and parents-to-be all over the globe. Over the past year, we’ve served customers from Pakistan, Turkey and beyond, as well as continuing to deliver to our loyal customer base here in the UK.”

Jonathan Reed, Managing Director of coffee shop chain Paddy & Scott’s, says his primary focus is the well-being of his staff. “It’s people that make a business successful,” he explains. “A year is a long time to endure so much instability, and people’s priorities have changed during the many lockdowns.

“When we reopened in April, we wanted our team to be in the jobs they wanted so they come back safe, confident and raring to go. With that, each team member had the opportunity to re-craft their role and bring any newly learned skills to the fore, while having access to return-to-work meetings, one-to-one coaching sessions, well-being workouts and our very own well-being guru. We wanted to get the best from our team and it has paid off. We are now rebuilding our hospitality businesses from the ground up with a happy and stable team in place.”

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