IN another tentative step towards normality, many non-essential retailers will open their doors in Bradford today after temporarily closing due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

While the move marks a step forward in restarting the economy following an “unprecedented” fall in GDP in April, shoppers should not expect things to be as they were in the pre-lockdown days.

All businesses in Bradford have had to make changes before taking the decision to re-open to ensure social distancing and the safety of customers.

Jonny Noble, manager of the Bradford Business Improvement (BID) district, said while the shopping experience will be very different, the work businesses have been doing to prepare for the recovery should make it a more pleasant one.

He said: “Bradford’s 630 businesses – through the BID – have continued to invest in the deep cleaning of key footfall areas, removing chewing-gum, graffiti and years of grime, as well as cleaning, repainting and restoring street furniture, benches and the like.

“We have also installed 158 beautiful hanging baskets to bring lots of colour to the streets and this year – the BID’s second – we have been able to source them from a Bradford company, ACW Garden Centres, whereas in 2019 we were forced to go outside of the district because we started late in the season.

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“And on top of all the advice and guidance on keeping staff and shoppers safe we’ve been collating and providing for local firms, we’ve invested in hundreds of ‘queue bubbles’ to help them maintain social distancing.”

Mr Noble said shoppers will need to remember that social distancing measures are something new for retailers - as well as them - and he urged them to be patient as everyone adjusted to them.

“Our shops are really keen to welcome back customers and they want to do that safely but they’re having to think on their feet and implement measures that none of us have experienced before,” he said.

“I would ask people to bear with them, be patient and kind as we all adapt to this new environment. All this work on smartening up the city centre – over and above the Council’s regular cleaning regime – has been paid for by the shops themselves which should show customers and visitors just how highly-valued they are.”

Suzanne Watson, President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said its latest research shows businesses are looking to take a ‘safety first approach’ to reopening,  with nearly three quarters planning to have measures in place for the safe movement of customers and the general public for at least the next three to 12 months.

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She said: “Social distancing also features very strongly in our survey, with 41 per cent expecting this to be part of their working patterns for at least the next six months with an additional 43 per cent expecting to keep this going for up to 12 months.

“From conversations we are having with businesses, the Council and support organisations we understand that just over half of retail brands are expected to re-open in the city.

“As we enter the recovery phase it is vital that businesses continue to follow official guidance and ensure that safe working practices are in place. In the meantime rebuilding public confidence and ensuring the health and safety of customers will remain the top priority for businesses.”

Bradford’s two main shopping spots - The Broadway and Kirkgate Shopping Centre - have introduced a suite of measures ahead of re-opening.

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This includes things like heightened cleaning regimes, hand sanitising stations, plus new signage and markers to help people maintain a two-metre distance between themselves and others.

Both centres will be limiting the numbers of people allowed in any one time and The Broadway has also introduced a one-way system.

Toilets will remain closed at both.

At Kirkgate, visitors can take children and other members of their household if they need to, but family groups must be kept to a minimum, and congregating or socialising on the mall is prohibited.

The Broadway has also advised it may not be able to allow groups of shoppers outside of family units and carers into the centre due to restrictions on the numbers of shoppers allowed in.

The Broadway car park will re-open today, but will be cashless, and the food court will be open as a takeaway service only.

Catherine Riley, manager at the Kirkgate Shopping Centre, said: “We understand that people will be cautious about returning to any public location, this pandemic has had a huge impact on our community.

"So, we know the importance of getting these measures right, not only to ensure everyone coming into our centre is safe, but that they also feel confident that their health and wellbeing is continuously being considered.

She added: “Our Centre teams have been working extremely hard under huge pressure, and we are immensely grateful to them, but we know we cannot do this alone and everyone who visits our centre will play a part in keeping themselves and others safe by following the official guidelines, instructions and information provided by our teams.

"We’re taking strenuous measure to protect our colleagues and customers, and while safety is paramount, we look forward to welcoming our visitors and retailers back as they gradually reopen to serve the community.”

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Ian Ward, General Manager at The Broadway, added: “The team at The Broadway has worked tirelessly to prepare the Centre ahead of its reopening today in accordance with government advice. Keeping our staff and customers safe continues to be of paramount importance and we’ve therefore introduced a number of simple customer protocols which are visible on new signage in the Centre.  

“Today marks a positive step forward for shopping centres and retailers returning to some level of business normality. We will continue to adhere to government guidance and are committed to assessing and evaluating the processes we’re implementing to ensure staff and shopper safety. We also hope the measures in place will create a stress-free shopping experience."

Kirkgate Market will re-open and non-essential traders in the Oastler Centre will be able to start back up again.

Social distancing measures including information signs, queuing aids and way finding materials will ensure the markets will meet government safety guidelines.

They will follow increased hygiene instructions and take electronic payments where possible.