From Wednesday 2 December, as England returns to a system of tiered restrictions, all non-essential retail across England will be able to reopen, and planning rules limiting opening hours will be eased to allow shops to be open for longer Monday to Saturday.
The government says these measures will help ease transport pressures and make socially distanced shopping easier by giving people greater flexibility to choose when they shop and avoid peak times.
And by choosing to shop local, consumers can double the amount of money that stays within their local economy by consciously choosing to shop more with independent, local businesses, finds a new report from Visa and the Cebr (Centre for Economics and Business Research)
The report revealed that for every £10 spent with an independent business, £3.80 is retained locally, but only just over half of Brits plan to do some of their Christmas shopping locally this year, either online or in store, while four in five (81 per cent) are supporting local businesses as much, or more than, before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many independent retailers are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial.
Banbury art-shop owner Barry Whitehouse went from having no website to running virtual art classes for his local students – now, they’re joined by people from all over the world.
The Artery is an art lover’s paradise, full of watercolour brushes, lino sets, calligraphy pens and more. Upstairs there is a classroom where Barry delivers art classes for up to eight students.
In January this year, The Artery celebrated its 10th year of trading. Forty different classes were available in the studio space at £12 each, plus there were strong sales from the shop. Barry was also heavily involved in organising community events such as the Banbury art festival.
But then Covid-19 hit and by late February he was seeing the effects.
“Revenue dropped and so did footfall. My older students started cancelling classes due to health concerns. I needed a new business plan and fast because at that stage I didn’t even have an online shop,” he says.
In March, he was forced to close his beloved shop and put his two part-time staff on furlough. Stuck at home like everyone else, he started experimenting with streaming his classes online direct from his dining room via closed Facebook groups. The camera was trained on his easel and he offered step-by-step instructions just as he did in the real-life classes.
“Those first few weeks were about getting my older students used to new technology,” he says. “For some, my classes were the only outside contact they got all week. It became a special time where they could connect and switch off from the stress of Covid-19 for a couple of hours.”
Barry charged a flat rate of £5 a class and by April had seven weekly classes available, covering watercolour, acrylics, drawing, and calligraphy. Initially the clientele were mostly current students but then he started to up his social media presence.
He began by offering the occasional free paint-along sessions on the Artery Facebook page. To date those six sessions have now had more than 12,000 views, with his class on painting a bluebell wood in watercolour proving particularly popular. This resulted in new students signing up to his online classes from all across the UK as well as the US, South Africa, Australia and Canada.
“I have gone from around 50 students pre-lockdown to several hundred now,” he says. “Some classes have 40-plus people in them. The students have created their own community by sharing their work and words of encouragement.”
Barry has also brought his shop online for the first time via a ShopAppy.com account. He is now sending parcels across the UK and sales are especially strong for products such as the watercolour brushes that students need for classes.
“I personally deliver all local orders either on foot or in my car and often have a socially distanced chat,” says Whitehouse. “My customers love buying from a small local shop. Support from brands like Visa has been invaluable in raising awareness on shopping local and falling in love with our town centres again.”
“I always thought I’d need a bigger bricks and mortar classroom to grow my business. But the online world means my classes have opened up to so many more people across the world. They have become a crucial support lifeline,” says Whitehouse.
Communities Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: "None of us entirely enjoy navigating the crowds, especially now when social distancing is so important for controlling the pandemic. So with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
"How long will be a choice for shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council. Councils should offer these hard pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season."
Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "With just over three weeks until Christmas, shoppers will welcome the additional opportunities to shop that the government’s statement supports. Such measures will give more flexibility for shoppers about when and how they shop and we’d encourage everyone to avoid peak times where possible, not leave it all to the last minute and follow all the safety guidelines."