City customers set to benefit from Craft Village Covid improvements

A group of local City Centre businesses are enjoying the benefits of a special scheme aimed at meeting the needs of companies adjusting to changes to the trading environment since lockdown.

By Claire Cartmill
Sunday, 8th August 2021, 5:00 pm

A group of local City Centre businesses are enjoying the benefits of a special scheme aimed at meeting the needs of companies adjusting to changes to the trading environment since lockdown.

The businesses – Sass and Halo, Han, Stitch Express, the Shoe Repair Shop, and John O’Doherty Estate Agents - are all located in Londonderry’s scenic Craft Village, normally a popular cultural hub for tourists, where the streets fell silent over lockdown.

As the visitors make a welcome return, the group decided to come together to see how they could create a safer, more welcoming area for shoppers and tourists, taking into account social distancing and other safety measures.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Alderman Graham Warke, with some of the local business people from the Craft Village. Included are Colin Greer, Department for the Communities, centre, with from left, Helen Quigley, Chief Executive, Inner City Trust, Ursula Nicholl, Stitch Express, Louise Breslin, DCSDC, John Tierney, Shoe Repairs, Eoin Doherty, James O Doherty & Co and Aoife Doherty, Sass & Halo

They made a joint application under the Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Programme, gaining a special support grant of £21,000 that has helped them implement a number of small changes that will make a big impact, including the introduction of awnings and purchase of digital equipment.

The Department for Communities’ Covid-19 Recovery Grant is available through Derry City and Strabane District Council, and offers businesses support with putting in place the measures needed to adapt to the new health and safety requirements post Covid.

Like most urban areas, the Craft Village has been affected as a result of Covid-19, initially having to close and now seeing a continued drop in footfall as people take a more tentative approach to shopping.

The businesses based in its quaint historic streets have all lost out on revenue with the cancellation of regular events in and around the city centre such as Halloween and St Patrick’s Day, usually highlights in the retail calendar.

The Craft Village attracts over 70,000 visitors each year, and it will take time to rebuild that confidence. But businesses in the area are doing all they can to create a customer experience that offers reassurance through more open spaces and safer ways of interacting.

With limited numbers allowed in shops, the awnings will provide protection against weather conditions for those queueing outside creating a more welcoming environment for shoppers. The digital equipment will assist businesses such as Han and Sass and Halo develop their online product line, offering customers easier access to the local products they love. This will help them through the ongoing Covid period and provide a financial lifeline until the physical customer experience recovers fully.

Speaking on behalf of the Craft Village Group, Helen Quigley, CEO, Inner City Trust, said. “We are delighted to have been able to avail of this support through the Department for Communities. This has been a prolonged and very difficult period that has certainly pushed local businesses to the limit in terms of reopening. “We have a long way to go in restoring our footfall numbers back to the levels expected at this time of year. As well as losing vital revenue, businesses have had to invest in new signage, new equipment, safety equipment and marketing. I think we have to accept that people’s expectations have changed and this new way of doing business will continue for the foreseeable future.

“We are hopeful that the awnings will positively contribute to the visual appeal of the village and encourage footfall in the area with the potential to have long lasting positive effects upon the village, the shops and the city centre in general. This commercial synergy is a vital ingredient of the renewal of business in the area and we will continue to work together to the benefit of everyone in the Craft Village business community.”

Head of Business with Council, Kevin O’Connor, continued: “Normally at this time of year the city centre would be buzzing with tourists and the Craft Village is the place to visit to pick up a wide range of products unique to the city. We are seeing some increase in footfall but naturally people are still cautious so we want to ensure that our local businesses are able to meet customer expectations when it comes to health and safety. “They can do that by applying for Council’s Covid Reassurance Mark, which is an official indication of compliance, and also by applying for the Covid Recovery grant to assist with introducing new measures. We would encourage any local businesses in need of information or support to get in touch with Council.”

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, added: “My Department introduced the Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Programme to support the recovery of our towns and city centres post pandemic. The Programme has been an excellent example of collaborative working and has supported over 3,000 businesses across the north which has helped them reopen safely. I hope that funding business such as those located in the Craft Village will encourage people back into our towns and city centres to spend time, to support our local businesses and ultimately to help keep our town and city centres alive and prosperous.”

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