Oxford’s beloved Covered Market, home to 50 independent retailers, is set to reopen on Monday with a comprehensive range of measures in place to enable people to maintain social distancing.
The market, managed by Oxford City Council, has been closed to the public during the coronavirus lockdown, although a number of traders have continued to use it to distribute deliveries.
Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for City Centre, Covered Market and Culture, said: “Since the lockdown began the Covered Market has been a source of truly inspiring trader stories that have not only involved sudden adaption, but have also clearly demonstrated just how much they care about the community they are part of.
“As a regular shopper at the market, this has made me even more passionate about what this incredible market has to offer. I have been getting my deliveries from Bonners, Cardews and others over the last few months, but I am very much looking forward to going back inside the market and seeing friends again.”
Verity Piggott who runs Bonners fruit and veg unit in the Covered Market with her husband Gordon, is excited about the reopening, having adapted during the closure.
Bonners has been running an extensive delivery service which includes goods from as many of the market’s businesses as possible, to keep them afloat until reopening. This includes meat, fish, bread, soap, cookies and more.
“Bonners has been in The Covered Market since 1952 so we had to react fast when the market closed and adapt quickly. We soon realised that people were finding it hard getting to supermarkets, while others couldn’t get delivery slots at all, so we began delivering to all OX postcodes, which is something we will continue to do even when the market reopens.
“But we we miss seeing out customers faces and the conversations we have. We enjoy looking after our customers. We want to stay right here, so we just hope our customers come back and continue to support us because The Covered Market is one big family.”
And what of the safety aspect? “There’s lots of room here and I have to say the council have been brilliant about providing the right safety measures and security on the gates,” Verity adds. “It’s very important that people’s shopping experience is safe.”
So how is the city council managing the safety measures? “We have been working closely with traders to redesign the way the market works to help shoppers and traders maintain social distancing,” Councillor Mary Clarkson says.
“The market is going to look very different when it reopens, and I would ask people to keep their distance and look after each other when they do return. But it is our passion and resolve to ensure the market has a better and even stronger future.”
Mark Nash from Nash’s Bakery is bemused about why The Covered Market’s essential shops had to shut in the first place when supermarkets didn’t. Of his six shops, The Covered Market is the only one that had to close.
“I do worry that having been shut for so long that people have got out of the habit of coming to The Covered Market, and as for shopping locally very few people live in the actual city centre of Oxford. We usually rely on students and tourists, so I really hope people come and support us,” he says.
“On the other hand, the good thing is that people have changed they shopping habits and have learned that there is another way to buy food more locally while supporting local businesses, so I hope that continues.”
Jessica Defouloy, manager at The Oxford Cheese Company is also looking forward to seeing her customers again face-to-face. “We have a really good one way system, clear social distancing in place and our shop is much safer than a supermarket because we are well organised with a good queueing system, two metre marks on the floor and cashless payments.
“The Covered Market needs to get back to business now, too many other businesses have started selling products that they don’t specialise in, but here at the market we have specialist shops for cheese, chocolate, butchery, fruit & vegetables and fish, and it is important that customers come here and support us. The market is safe because it is so draughty and breezy and so much better than an enclosed shop and I feel strongly that we should never have been closed in the first place.”
The City Council’s new measures to help shoppers maintain social distancing include:
· Two entrances will be open. One on Market Street, and one on High Street. The other seven entrances to the market will be closed
· Stewards will be positioned on each entrance to ensure the levels of shoppers in the market remain at a number that allows social distancing
· There will be a third steward placed inside the market to act as a Social Distancing Champion. Their role will be to liaise with the stewards at each entrance to manage the flow of optimum numbers throughout the market and give guidance to the public where needed.
· A one-way system will be introduced around the market, similar to the systems now used in supermarkets
· Markings will be installed along the avenues to explain the one-way system and indicate two-metre distances
· All advertising A-boards, tables, chairs, bicycle racks and other obstacles will be removed from the avenues to allow shoppers more space to maintain social distancing
· Hand sanitisers will be available at each entrance, plus our traders have been encouraged to offer customers access to hand sanitisers within their premises
· The High Street entrance that includes The Varsity Club will be used for people to queue to access the market. Queues on Market Street will be restricted to 4/5 people at the widest part of the pavement
· An enhanced cleaning regime, including cleaning of the public toilets in Market Street, trader toilets, and a deep clean of the whole market at the end of each day, will be introduced
Trading hours will currently be Monday – Saturday 9am – 5pm. These hours will be reviewed on a weekly basis with a view to returning to normal as soon as possible. The opening hours of individual traders are likely to vary.
Customers will be able to keep up to date with which traders are open, and their opening times, via boards at the market entrance points, and the Covered Market’s social media and website.
The Covered Market’s restaurants and cafes, following Government guidance, will remain closed. However, some smaller establishments may be able to open for take away only. The Government has indicated that these businesses could reopen from early July.
For more information visit: www.oxford.gov.uk/coveredmarket