Matt Gladstone, executive director for place at Barnsley Council talks Covid-19 and cleaning
By now, almost everyone will be aware of how to shop safely and minimise the potential spread of Covid-19. Face masks, floor markings, sanitation stations, and capacity monitoring are the norm across the country. In terms of hygienic practice, there is no such things overkill – but when it comes to creating a welcoming environment for shoppers, it is easy to go a step too far.
“The safety of our customers was our utmost priority when we reopened non-essential retail within our market,” says Matt Gladstone, executive director for place at Barnsley Council. “We had discussions with local retailers and supermarkets to discuss best practices, keeping an open mind and being as flexible as possible in our approach to ensure measures could be changed and implemented quickly – and at short notice – in an ever-changing situation.
Gladstone tells that they worked hard to keep essential stalls – such as those selling food– open throughout the pandemic: “That gave us a head start, as we could constantly review the safety measures we had in place, and look at what was working and what could be better, early on.
Barnsely Council opted to keep on top of government advice and made the decision to lead from the front on safety measures such as face coverings, which were encouraged among shoppers to wear from the off, before they became a mandatory requirement.
Equally as important, Gladstone continues, has been to restore customer confidence, which has, understandably, been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
“We were honest in our approach. We extensively promoted the robust safety measures we had in place through local advertising, social media and on signage across our town centre. Measures included extra staff on site, one-way systems, hand sanitiser stations, social distancing, limiting capacity and wearing face coverings. We wanted to make sure this new way of behaving became second nature. We were also clear that the market experience would be different to what shoppers were used to – creating video walk throughs showing the new customer journey.”
He explains, however, that this has been a tricky balance to strike. The goal is to get shoppers to visit the market, and it is the council’s responsibility as the landlord to ensure it’s COVID secure, which they worked hard to do. Customers have to shop safely, so it was important to reiterate that the virus is still out there and that the only way to return back to as close to normal as possible would be if they worked with us and followed the guidelines they put in place.
“But we didn’t want to frighten customers by scaremongering, either,” he says. “It’s about being sensible, clear, keeping the messages simple and taking small steps. You have to trust your customers to follow the guidelines.
“Our customers have high expectations and we aim to meet those. We’re always looking to improve and have encouraged feedback on the safety measures from customers so we can get to a point where most of our shoppers feel comfortable visiting our market. While we hope we’ll be back to normal one day, it’s important we embrace the ‘new normal’ in the meantime to keep the market as COVID secure – and as welcoming – as possible.
“We were keen to make sure that we supported our traders to get them moving, too. We offered free rent periods, were quick to issue government grants and gave council staff vouchers to spend in the market, worth over £60,000 to the local economy.”