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Holly Thomas is a freelance journalist covering personal finance and property. Here, she takes a look at practical things we can do to support local businesses.

The independent bookshops, florists, jewellers and boutiques that make our towns and villages vibrant and unique will no doubt be relieved at news that high street shops will be able to reopen from 15 June. But it doesn’t mean everyone, everywhere will be able to open their doors, not least because some will be unable to get staff into work.

Those that can open will face challenges from social distancing, perhaps including organising space, which might come with expense, as well as a drop in usual business if they can’t welcome all passers-by. Queuing to get into a shop will not appeal to all and in some locations is simply not practical.

Even the most loyal of customers might still avoid shopping in person if they are in a high-risk category, health wise, or simply still feel uncomfortable being out and about on the high street. The new rules don’t yet include restaurants, bars and cafes that will all have to remain shut for business as usual.

Kirsty McGregor, founder of consultancy, the Corporate Finance Network, says: “Our local businesses need us to stand by them more than ever. They are the lifeblood of our community. Small companies are mostly responsible for creating the vast majority of our new products, for innovating and then selling that research to larger players to exploit more widely. If our country loses many of its small businesses, it will become a much duller place. We need to preserve and support them however we can, until they can step back up to a normal level of trading again.”

Here are seven ways you can show support to local businesses:

1. Shop local

If you need to buy something, try to buy locally first. Just because some doors are shut on your high street – and might stay that way for a while longer if they can’t open straight away - it doesn’t mean the shop or service hasn’t adapted its business behind the scenes. Many remain open online (or have added an online channel) and are providing delivery or a contact-free pickup. I bought some bags of bark chippings for the garden from my local hardware store which were left at the back of the shop for me to collect. Check websites and local Facebook groups to find out who is offering what. Equally, if you decide to venture out to see who is open next month, be prepared for a wait to get into the shop as the number of customers inside at one time will be limited. Business owners will greatly appreciate your patience.

2. Treat yourself to a takeaway or delivery

A night off cooking (and scrubbing pots and pans) will be welcome in most households. Many pubs and restaurants are operating a collection and or delivery service – most have information on their websites. My husband and I recently treated ourselves to a meal collected from a pub nearby. It’s offering a ready-meal style service for next-day collection and you can even order fruit and veg boxes in advance from its own trade suppliers.

3. Pay now, enjoy later vouchers

Several cities have launched schemes to support local, independent businesses in the hospitality and events sectors, which remain under lockdown. The Pay It Forward scheme lets individuals pay for products or services now, which can then be delivered once businesses return to normal or near-normal operation. That includes booking meals, a room for the night or a ticket to an event with any business that has registered.

Another, named “Indie Kitty”, offers the chance to support independent businesses in Bristol, Bath, Brighton, Birmingham and Cardiff by purchasing vouchers that can be redeemed when they reopen. They can be purchased through Wriggle - a Bristol-based food delivery service.

4. Join the streaming sensation

Many yoga teachers and vocal coaches have been taking to the likes of Zoom to continue classes by streaming them. Some are asking for a voluntary donation rather than a set fee, so if your income has taken a hit and things are tight, you might still be able to afford it. If your favourite service is not already offering it, ask them if they would consider doing so until they are able to open doors again.

5. Stock up on birthday presents

Shopping might be the last thing on your mind. But for family and friends that have birthdays coming up in the next few months – try to make sure most of your spend goes into the pockets of small businesses. Early on in lockdown I spotted a tweet by a local dressmaker that said she was thrilled someone had bought one of her designs for a friend’s birthday, as it meant she could go out that afternoon to do a food shop. If you don’t want to choose a specific item, many local firms are offering gift cards. This includes restaurants and bars. You could also investigate what local bakeries and small restaurants are offering. Some in my area are delivering birthday afternoon teas complete with all the trimmings.

6. Give shout-outs on social media

A gesture that won’t cost you a penny is to follow your favourite businesses on social media, and like and share their interesting posts. It can be a huge help to spread the word of how their business has adapted to lockdown and to reach new audiences. Equally when shops start to open, shout loud and proud about the great efforts being made to open and provide a safe shopping environment for loyal customers.

Share local restaurant delivery menus, links of streamed classes and any offers you’ve spotted that might not have been seen by others. If you’re not camera-shy, you might want to go a step further and post a video about where you shop. Exeter City Council has launched a campaign - Stronger Together - to support local business. It is encouraging people to post 10-second clips about businesses they love in the area, using the hashtags #WeAreStronger #Supportlocal and #BuyLocal.

7. Get those odd jobs done

Supporting local business is not just about those with a shop presence. There are plenty of tradespeople suffering a huge loss of income. Keep an eye out for offers on local Facebook groups. I’ve been meaning to contact a local firm that offers to clear gutters for a bargain £30. Dig out (or write out) the list of things you need doing around the house – in or out – and find someone local who can help, as long as they can adhere to social distancing, of course.

The above article is intended as general information and does not constitute advice in any way. You should take independent advice if you have any questions about your specific circumstances.

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