Friday, 30 October 2020

Think Local: The Return

Think Local: The Return

THE Henley Standard this week relaunches a campaign to support businesses in the town and surrounding area as they recover from the coronavirus crisis.

Think Local encourages residents of Henley and South Oxfordshire to visit shops and spend money in the high street.

It comes as many “non-essential” shops prepare to re-open on Monday after being closed for almost three months.

In the coming weeks and months, the campaign will focus on businesses, groups and individuals who are going out of their way to support each other and keep the community alive and vibrant. Each article will be stamped with the Think Local logo. Most retailers have been shut since all “non-essential” businesses were ordered to close by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 23.

Most have received grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 from the Government but still have to pay rent and bills despite having little or no income.

Worse, the lockdown came at a crucial time when normally the shops would be benefiting from the run-up to summer events such as Henley Royal Regatta, the Henley Festival and the Thames Traditional Boat Festival, which have all been cancelled.

Their income during the spring and summer helps many of them get through the quieter winter months.

Henley Town Council has committed to helping businesses to recover by by providing a “town ranger” to help ensure the streets are safe for customers and visitors.

It is also promoting social distancing by providing information, posters and stickers to retailers and hospitality outlets and is urging shoppers to wear appropriate personal protective equipment and be considerate to others,

Yellow “A board style” road signs will be placed at the entrances to the town saying “Henley open for business, please social distance”.

Mayor Ken Arlett made supporting local businesses his priority for his year of office when he was
re-elected last month. He welcomed the return of the Think Local campaign, which was originally launched in 2009, when Henley had 34 empty shop units due to the recession following the banking crisis.

Councillor Arlett said: “My message is come and try Henley first. If people don’t shop, the shops will close, it’s as simple as that, and it’s no good complaining then.”

He said he was confident that shops and other businesses were following the Government’s strict rules for re-opening in order to prevent the spread of covid-19.

These include screens, personal protective equipment, limited numbers in store and contactless payments while shoppers themselves must follow the 2m social distancing rule.

Councillor Arlett said: “My view is if people work to the rules that have been set by the Government, it will be fine and there will be no problem with shopping. People just haven’t shopped for three months so, providing you follow the guidelines, it’s safe.

“It will be a lot safer in smaller towns like Henley rather than going to bigger places. I will definitely be going local first.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “This is a good time to relaunch Think Local.

“If you think about what many of our businesses have done in trying to provide takeaway facilities and ways of continuing to serve the community, they have done a lot and now they need some help from us.

“There’s no doubt that coronavirus has had a big impact on shops, particularly in the lockdown period, and those that are most at risk are local shops. It’s important we do our best to support them.

“We have, particularly in Henley, a brilliant array of shops. What I don’t want to see is good, local shops that are locally-owned and often family, run disappear.

“We need to do all we can to make sure we spend our money there and that they offer what we want to buy.”

Niki Schafer, who chairs the Henley Business Partnership, said: “We need to spend money within our own economy in order for that to be passed around.

“None of us wants to be in a town where there are empty shops or restaurants boarded up. If we don’t want to see that we need to step up and support those restaurants and retailers. It’s up to us as residents to support our businesses.

“Think Local is a great campaign and always has been. We should be proud of our local businesses at any time, whether we’re in a crisis or not.”

Mrs Schafer said the business community was currently split into those that were still able to operate, such as human resources and IT companies, and those that couldn’t, such as the service and retail sectors.

She said: “There are lots of businesses trying to figure out what to do. From the business partnership’s perspective, as we come out of lockdown, let’s support those businesses who were told to stop trading.”

Henley town and community manager Helen Barnett said: “Everyone is working together for the safety of visitors to Henley.

“It’s been an unprecedented time for retail and for the high street and now, more than ever, the shops need your support.

“It’s a very difficult time for businesses overall, but the high street has been hit quite hard by the crisis.

“A lot of people have been starved of their retail experience and I do think they will be back and support the local retailers.

“We hope everybody social distances and we can give people confidence to come shopping.”

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