Since the nationwide lockdown on March 23, imposed in a bid to halt the spread of the Coronavirus, offline businesses across the UK have seemingly ground to a halt.
Shops, restaurants, gyms and garden centres shut their doors to customers with essential retailers only – namely supermarkets – continued trading.
All that was left for the rest of the non-digital parts of UK plc was to wait for safety updates and – in the meantime – start planning for an uncertain return; indeed an uncertain future.
At least, that’s how it was up until a week ago. In recent days, agitation from big business for any kind of lockdown exit strategy has been on the rise; any news that could aid their new forecasting efforts.
Taking care to emphasise the need for safety, chiefs of garden centres, gyms and other businesses have been finding spots on radio and television news programmes to discuss what their future business models might look like in a world beyond lockdown but with strict social distancing measures still in place.
Last week the Institute of Directors said its 28,000 members were “clamouring” for information to help them figure out their ‘return-to-work’ plans. IoD director general Jon Geldart, its director general, said members “need to make plans but can’t get very far if they have no idea what will be happening in a few weeks’ time,”.
Even as these discussions become more prevalent, several companies across various sectors have already made moves to open up parts of their business.
Housebuilders Berkeley Group, Bellway and Barratt all signalled plans to get back to work. Berkeley was due to restart work at 80% of its sites this week, while Bellway plans to return to a third of its sites on 4 May. Barratt too intends to be up and running in a fortnight’s time.
DIY chain Homebase has reopened 20 of its stores for a trial period while Pret has opened some branches in hospitals. Rival DIY and home improvement retailer B&Q has reopened the majority of its stores – 258 out of 297 – with plans to reopen the remaining stores by early May. The retailer says it is limiting the number of customers in store at any one time, and will have a designated queuing area outside so customers can adhere to social distancing measures.
Shoe repair firm Timpson plans to reopen 40 outlets within supermarkets next week, but High Street shops will remain closed.
Bakery Greggs said it plans to reopen a small number of stores for takeaway and delivery next week as part of a “controlled trial”.
Nando’s announced it will be reopening six restaurants in the UK in London and Manchester for delivery only. Customers will need to order from Nando’s via Deliveroo, as dining areas remain closed and its click and collect service is still unavailable.
Burger King has re-opened a further eight restaurants after four other branches opened earlier this month. Customers can order a limited menu through Just Eat and Deliveroo.
Businesses all over the country are striving to protect staff and other stakeholders, as well as help, raise money or other good works where possible – and secure their future prosperity.
The health crisis, however, is exactly where it needs to be at the top of the news agenda, the Government’s priority list and front of mind for the public.