It’s been a tough time for everyone over the last few months and as lockdown eases and our exceptional local businesses open their physical doors again, I’ve been catching up with six of our favourites to understand and share a little bit more about how Covid has affected them, when they’ll be getting back to doing what they do so brilliantly and a little bit more about their plans.
Number One Bruton
As a newly opened eight-bedroomed boutique hotel, creating a buzz in Bruton, Somerset and beyond, Number One Bruton was forced to close just three months after that brilliant beginning.
As owner, Claudia Waddams, tells me:
“Covid has been devastating for so many people so I can't single us out as being more affected than anyone else - but it has been tough and we’ve been perilously close to the edge for the last 4 months.
We’re delighted to be reopening on July 30th though and are doing everything we can to help our guests feel confident when then come and stay; hand sanitisers, disinfectant misters, gloves, masks, UV boxes, intensive cleaning - safety is our priority, without compromising on the customer experience. As someone said, 'we don't want to put the hospital in to hospitality'!”
Ahh, that comment did make me smile and Number One is keeping positive too:
“We’re trying to concentrate on the positives", says Claudia. ”After all... it’s not often you get to open twice! We’re working to fix the little things that irritated us before lockdown and polishing and prepping so that on July 30th we are ready to roll”.
Well, we can’t wait to see Number One welcoming guests back to their beautiful revamped Georgian townhouse soon. It’s a very cool base from which to rewind, relax and rediscover the very best of Somerset and it’s true isn’t it? Opening twice is definitely a unique story.
Rocket and Bird, Taunton
Another new Somerset business celebrating an amazing first year just before lockdown was Taunton-based gift shop, Rocket and Bird. Everything in the small and perfectly formed shop in the county town’s Indie Quarter, is created exclusively by Somerset makers and artists. Shutting it during lockdown saw co-owners, Jeanette Crawford and Susie Thomas, take a step back and reassess everything... apart from that!
As Susie tells me:
“We were grateful to receive the small business grant which gave us some breathing space and allowed us time to put a new plan in place. Prior to Covid-19 we didn't have a website or online shop, as we really wanted our shop to encourage people to visit Taunton and shop in the High Street, but with recent events we decided it was a good time to give our customers the option of shopping online”.
In June, rocketandbird.com rocketed into the online world and Susie says she hopes it will make the shop more accessible - with any customers who feel anxious about shopping in town still able to browse and get the things they love delivered direct to their door.
“We were excited to open the bricks and mortar shop again though and have put everything in place to make it a safe and enjoyable experience. As we are such a small shop, there will be a limit to 2 customers in the shop at one time. It’s been great seeing our lovely customers again and we hope people will leave Rocket and Bird with unique, original items and perhaps, more importantly, a smile! :)
Well it has to be said, Susie and Jeanette are so positive and their shop is a ray of sunshine. Opening hours are limited right now (twice a week, on Wednesdays 12-2pm and Saturdays 11-3pm until the school summer holidays begin), but the guys hope that with the addition of the online shop they can offer the best of both worlds.
And from the new Somerset cool kids on the block to the beloved Somerset home of contemporary crafts, which just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary when Covid hit. Sinead Foley, owner of beautiful Frome-based boutique Seed tells me, it was a “strange and terrifying” feeling having to close their doors.
“Obviously, we had no idea how long we would have to do that for - maybe that was a good thing with hindsight! We already had an online business so it allowed me to focus on that, but it’s a wonderful feeling to have reopened. I was nervous, it felt quite overwhelming at times but now we’re open it’s amazing to see our customers and friends again and be part of the community of Frome”.
Like Number One Bruton and Rocket and Bird, safety is key at Seed.
“We have all the necessary precautions in place, hand sanitiser, reminders to socially distance, sneeze screens, gloves and masks available and we’re only taking card payments to limit contact. Before opening we refreshed the space, painted, cleaned thoroughly and I’m really happy with how it’s looking - very fresh with some great new products. We have a piece of art in the window of a child watering a rainbow. The artist donated the cost to the NHS and I’m going to auction it to raise money for food banks.”
Well, we absolutely love this idea, the artwork and of course it’s always fantastic to see kindness flourishing in Frome.
Bailey Hill Bookshop, Castle Cary
Bailey Hill is our local bookshop and what a gem it is. If you’ve been (if not, why not ;)) you’ll know the weight lifts from your shoulders when you walk in. There’s something magical about the space there and of course, the shelves full of stories.
When lockdown was announced, Bailey Hill Bookshop had to close its doors of course, but as manager, Alex Ballinger, tells me:
“We were determined to maintain a service for our loyal customers. Staying at home provided many people with the time to appreciate the value of a good read and we decided to do our best to deliver those books. We took orders by phone, email, and social media. Customers could collect from the bookshop, many orders were despatched by post and we also offered a free delivery service to local people. We would walk, cycle or drive to get books to the people who had always been loyal to us".
And owner, Claire Brooker, agrees:
“We see ourselves as more than just a bookshop. We provide a hub for promotion of local events and local news, and during lockdown we took the opportunity, when delivering books, to offer to deliver other items that customers might want... be it a tube of glue, ant powder or some groceries! Financially, running an independent bookshop is a constant challenge, but we felt that staying open and maintaining our customer base was crucial for when we could fully reopen. We took pay cuts and a grant from the Local Authority helped tide us over. We reopened our doors on 6th July. We have a one way system in place and restrict customers to two at a time in our cosy space. With the risk of infection being passed on the covers of books, we ask all customers to use the hand sanitiser provided before entering. Alex and I wear masks, and we have a Perspex screen on the desk".
The shop is now open Monday to Saturday, 9am to 1pm and bespoke bookings are available in the afternoons for people who are self-shielding or want to be extra careful when shopping. We think that's a brilliant idea and as Claire goes on to say:
“The initial response has been really positive, and it’s so good to see customers old and new enjoying discovering books again. We love our shop and the local community and thank everyone for their support”.
Craft House Chocolate, Somerton
From one of our favourite things, books, to another... chocolate! Craft House Chocolate in Somerton is back open and as owner Annette Oakely-Prior says, it’s “tentative steps, one customer at a time and hand sanitiser", but like Rocket and Bird, Annette has used the time to create an online offering, click and collect and delivery to any UK address.
“This is still working well and is a positive step forward for us, as our online shop was non-existent before lockdown. It took us two weeks to get it all up and running and it was so worth it”.
Annette's also evolved the business by introducing a wider range of products, new flavoured bars, cacao tea and BBQ packs (chocolate fondue). A chocolate BBQ? What new type of heaven is this? ;) As Annette says:
“We’ve added a chocolate chilled drink section to our already expanding single origin hot chocolate takeaway board. Frappes, milkshakes and affogatos are proving to be very popular. We want to apply for an alcohol license too, so when we get back to some sort of normality we can hold events like Wine & Chocolate Pairings”.
Now that sounds great to us! And what about the chocolate workshops Annette was running before lockdown?
“As it stands at the moment, they're on hold till at least September. Hopefully we'll be able to restart those workshops soon and as I'm not teaching at the moment, my time is certainly not being wasted. I'm recipe testing chocolate patisserie and baked chocolate goodies to sell in the shop”.
Ahhh! How much temptation can one Somerset shop provide I ask you? ;) In terms of reopening after lockdown though, there's one thing Annette is incredibly passionate about:
"Our main goal is to try and give our customers a great shopping experience - one they wouldn't get at the moment in larger towns. I personally shop local as I want our independent shops to survive"
Hear hear to that, Annette.
And finally, it’s back to Frome we go because we couldn’t leave out Rise Frome – a community hub in a lovingly restored church including a wonderful cafe, art gallery and space which is usually home to a variety of different classes.
As owner, Io Fox, tells me:
“When Covid hit, our whole business model became unstuck. Our strapline is ‘A place to be together’, but we had to actively keep people apart. Our classes and events stopped, the gallery closed, the Openstorytellers charity shut their doors and the Rye Bakery cafe closed up at our venue.
The bakery has been operating, in part, from its other space and they will reopen at Rise in August. The Charity, Gallery, classes and events will all reopen when we get the advice that it’s safe to go ahead – hopefully by September".
Well, it's tricky to predict the future at the moment isn't it? After the way the year's gone so far nothing would surprise us, and as Claudia at Number One Bruton says,
"Of course we fear a second wave or localised lockdown, but we are prepared to take each day as it comes and are hoping for the best".
Sinead at Seed also hopes for the best too and that lockdown will have given people some time with their thoughts:
“I’m hoping people may have had time to slow down and think about their impact on our environment and their purchasing behaviour. I’m proud that at Seed we’ve championed handcrafted products, the majority of which are made with love in the UK by some very talented craftspeople. Our packaging is recycled or eco friendly, our energy for the shop is 100% renewable, We’re trying to do everything we can to lessen our impact on the environment”.
And Io at Rise Frome definitely feels they've had time to pause and reflect:
"The lockdown gave us real time with our thoughts. It’s compounded our belief that people need people - and that our normally bustling building has been lonely without you all!"
I love this sentiment from Io. Community matters. Supporting local matters. The teams behind these, and all of our many awesome Somerset businesses, are our friends, our families, the people we celebrate with, depend on and make memories with. We want to see them and our local High Streets thrive, as the lifeblood of our communities. As Sinead at Seed says;
“It’s hard to know what the future holds, but I’m so grateful to be in Frome where the community really supports local business”
and I’m sure this feeling is echoed around the county, from Temple Cloud to Taunton.