Suffolk's towns prepare to welcome back shoppers after long winter lockdown
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Town centres across the region are preparing to re-open their shops, bars, cafes, and hairdressers from next Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the country was on course to complete his roadmap unveiled in February.
But unlike last June when the first lockdown came to an end, this time there will not be the fanfare or the feeling of a "new start" that we saw at that time.
And for some it will be a bitter-sweet experience, with Debenhams stores only opening for a short time while their stock is sold off.
In the county town, business group Ipswich Central is working with the council and traders to try to ensure the re-opening is as smooth as possible.
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Last June it installed new signs urging people to keep left while walking along the street - and was very keen to reinforce the social distancing requirements.
This time chief executive Paul Clement doesn't feel that level of control will be necessary: "People have lived with this so long now, those kind of things have started to come as second nature.
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"We don't see the need to press home those messages that much because people are used to behaving in that way.
"Having said that we will be monitoring and managing the queues that we expect to see outside some stores."
Ipswich Central is anticipating long queues outside Primark, Marks and Spencer and Debenhams when the stores reopen - and they could have extended opening hours.
Mr Clement said: "We saw queues at Primark when they were open last year and we have to expect that will happen again. They are expected to open longer hours to give more people the chance to shop there - but will be very busy.
"Debenhams in Ipswich will be reopening with a closing down sale, and is expected to get stock in from other branches as they close - eventually it will be one of the last in the country before it finally shuts down."
Ipswich Central is not expecting any problem with facilities for shoppers - the council has opened up the Corn Exchange toilets over the last few weeks because Sailmakers and the Buttermarket Centre have been closed. But their toilets are expected to re-open on Monday so the Corn Exchange will close again.
"We really don't see an issue with that - we think with the shopping centres and stores reopening it should be fine," said Mr Clement.
Ipswich Market should see some of its more familiar stalls return - Catchey's Fruit and Veg is actually returning a few days early. As a food stall it will be open from tomorrow in its usual site in front of the Town Hall.
Bury St Edmunds:
Mark Cordell from Our Bury St Edmunds felt that the reopening of the town this time should be helped by a growing feeling of confidence among many shoppers who have now been vaccinated to give them protection against Covid-19.
He said: "We need to do what we did last year and show people that it is safe to come to the centre of the town to shop and to do what they would normally do here - and I think we can do that.
"We have moved on since last year - and businesses are confident about the future here. People were happy to come out to Bury last summer and we are working hard to ensure that will happen again."
As in Ipswich, this year's reopening will focus more on a "business as usual" approach as people have become used to the restrictions and social distancing that are required.
Bury's Debenhams is not likely to be open as long as that in Ipswich - business leaders expect it to open its doors for three to six weeks before much of its stock is sold. The rest is then likely to be transferred to the store further down the A14.
Smaller Suffolk towns:
The good news for most small towns is that their shops should be able to open as normal with no major changes to be seen in the streets - there should be no return of the barriers to enforce social distancing that caused such controversy in Hadleigh and Beccles last summer.
James Lightfoot, the chairman of Choose Woodbridge, said businesses in the town were looking forward to reopening and attracting shoppers back: "We've actually got several new people who have started up here despite everything and are looking forward to opening.
"I think a town like Woodbridge has a great deal to offer and everyone is looking forward to the future."
Mr Lightfoot felt that the combination of independent shops, and attractive places for visitors to enjoy in the town would ensure that it rapidly recovered after the lockdown - and with special events planned for the summer, businesses could see a rapid recovery.
What is opening up on Monday;
Cafes, pubs and restaurants with outside seating.
Hairdressers and other "personal services" businesses like nailbars.
Libraries can open - so can outdoor attractions like zoos and theme parks.
Gyms and sports centres for individuals or family groups.
Ipswich Park and Ride.
Weddings with up to 15 guests.
Funerals with up to 30 mourners - although only 15 can go to a wake.
Children's indoor activities.