Sunderland business owners and customers react to threat of local lockdown

Sunderland city centre business owners and customers have had their say on fears of a local coronavirus lockdown.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 5:10 pm
Updated Friday, 11th September 2020, 1:12 pm

The city’s infection rate has rocketed in the last few days.

The latest figures from Public Health England show there were 24 people new cases in the seven days to Sunday, August 30, the equivalent of 8.6 per 100,000 people.

But in the following week, the number of new cases confirmed jumped to 192 – an infection rate of 69.1 per 100,000 people.

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We asked business owners and shoppers in Sunderland city centre what they thought of a potential local lockdown

The rise, which has been linked to a charity event at Burnside WMC in Houghton, has sparked fears that the city may be subjected to a local lockdown, with restrictions in place on public gatherings to reduce the risk of infection.

Such a move would come as a bitter blow to businesses which have only recently reopened following months of the national lockdown.

Nicola Collinson, who runs The Looking Glass in Sunniside, said: “It is worrying. Obviously, businesses are going to suffer if it happens.”

Nicola and husband Harry took the decision not to reopen when venues were first allowed to on July 4, but to wait and make sure there was demand and they were able to put the appropriate measures in place.

Clockwise from top left: John Bate, David Watt, Ellie Abolhassani and Norma Burn

"The thing we worried about was ‘Do people actually want to come out again?’ but it has been okay, actually,” she said.

“We have always been table service only, so it was not too difficult to adapt.”

She is not worried about the Government's new rule allowing a maximum of six people to socialise together: “All our tables are for four or five anyway,” she said.

Sunderland College students Lewis Henry, Ellie Taylor and Morggan Gaydon, all 17, have seen major disruption to their lessons over the last year.

Local lockdown fears in Sunderland. Dark Cycles owner Peter Dark.

"It was quite hard,” said Lewis. “And it is going to be very difficult if it happens again, because I am now in the second year of my A-levels.

"I have already lost six months of one-to-one time with my teachers.”

Ellie admitted she was not sure how she would cope with another lockdown: “I think it is going to be a lot harder this time,” she said.

"I think I would worry for my mental health having to be inside all the time.”

Clockwise from top left: Nicola Collinson, Morggan Gaydon, Lewis Heny and Ellie Taylor

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Morggan, though, is more philosophical: “I am not worried, it is what it is,” he said.

"We have already worked through it once and I think we handled it quite well.”

Gatsby manager John Bate has a very personal reason for hoping local lockdown doesn’t happen. The keen cyclist regularly takes biking holidays and has missed out this year: “I am going to Fort William next week, so it better not happen before that,” he said.

He is realistic about the possibility: “I have seen the facts and stats.

"I am a bit worried about another lockdown, but until everyone starts playing their part it is going to be part of every day life. We have to respect the views of the people above us.”

Norma Burn was waiting patiently in Park Lane for her weekly hairdressing appointment and is hoping she won’t be forced to give them up.

"I am not particularly worried – I got through the first lockdown and I will get through a second, but it’s not right we all have to pay for what a minority do,” said Norma, 82.

She has given up trying to keep track of the Government’s rule changes: “I don’t really worry much – the family tells me what I have to do and what I can’t do,” she said.

Ellie Abolhassani runs beauty salon Rez in High Street West and accepts that a lockdown might be necessary for the greater good ‘as long as it is fair and everywhere is locked down, rather than some being open and others closed’.

She has been disappointed with the Government’s support for businesses such as hers: “Bars and restaurants got ‘Eat Out to Help Out; but they did not do that for us,” she said.

"We had lockdown for three months and we did not get anything.

"Everybody was going out to restaurants, but it is actually much safer here - everybody is wearing masks, everything is two metres and apart and we are cleaning the surfaces all the time.”

Sixty-five-year-old David Watt believes a local lockdown is a matter of when, not if – “People have got careless,” he said – and has already made his own preparations: "It is looking like it is going to happen – that’s why I have been out and got my hair cut this morning. My wife had to do before.

"We were okay last time – we are both retired and spent the time working in the garden. If we had to go to the shops, we wore masks every time – we didn’t have to wait for Boris Johnson to tell us.”

Most business owners may be dreading the prospect of another lockdown, but Peter Darke is quite looking forward to it.

As a supplier of exercise equipment, Darke’s Cycles in High Street West was exempt from the previous restrictions - other than having to maintain social distancing – and Peter is shattered.

"We were open all the way through lockdown and it was really busy,” he said.

"When Boris told people to go out and get on their bikes for exercise, it was phenomenal - crazy busy. We have still not get ahead of it.

"We thought it would die off but people are still cycling and still enjoying it.

“If we DO get locked down, it might actually be a nice little rest.”

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