Harrogate basks in new freedoms as lockdown eases and life begins al fresco

Life has come flooding back to Harrogate this week as the Government’s roadmap allowed  the safe reopening of non-essential shops, bars, cafes, gyms and hairdressers.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 5:30 pm
The al fresco life - Customers enjoying lunch outdoors at the West Park Hotel in Harrogate this week. (Picture Gered Binks)

The return to the highest level of normality since before Christmas lifted spirits and boosted business.

Mark Robson, the manager of Marks & Spencer’s Cambridge Street branch, said the store had enjoyed strong sales from the moment the doors opened on Monday and the partial easing of rules against the pandemic came into force.

Mr Robson said: “We’ve been looking forward to welcoming more customers back into our stores this week, and all of our colleagues had a great day on Monday.

“It was fantastic to see plenty of smiling faces from the local community, and great to help everyone have a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”

The consensus was that the biggest relaxation of lockdown for months had got off to a great start with the town operating in the strongest way since before the first lockdown last year.

Graham Swift, Harorgate Borough Council’s cabinet member for resources, enterprise and economic development, said the town’s independent businesses haddone a great job of utilising outdoor spaces to meet the new rules.

Coun Swift said: “I was in town early on Monday morning and the first thing that hit me was the incredible creativity of places in extending and adapting their locations to create a new vibrant atmosphere that met the guidelines while making bars and cafes a great ‘new’ space to meet. It was encouraging to see the town busy and buzzing, but relaxed and respectful in a way which showed the town remains a top class destination.”

But businesses still have a way to go before things go back to pre-Covid levels entirely.

Across the UK on Monday, figures showed footfall in the nation’s high streets was down 24.2 per cent against the comparable day in 2019 before Covid.

Traders in Harrogate’s food and drink sector were relieved to see their efforts to attract customers to an al fresco experience in line with stage two of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown rewarded with a better than expected demand for outdoor table seating.

Some remained frustrated that they have had less access to public spaces such as the Stray than the last time. But the sunny weather brought a positive outlook on the whole.

Simon Colgan, co-owner of the Blues Bar and Empress on the Stray, said the support of customers at both of his bars this week had been “wondeful” to see.

Although stage two means people can meet up again outdoors, there is no shortage of concern over whether people will stick to the rules that remain and a deep desire to avoid the threat of lockdown ever returning.

Coun Swift said: “Irrespective of the excellent start to opening up, there are many people who are waiting for their vaccination and we need to be mindful of the reasons why safe distancing regulations are still in place.”

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