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Huntly businesses reopen to 'new normal'


By Lorna Thompson

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HUNTLY'S businesses are unsure what to expect from a still wary public as they tentatively put up their "open" signs.

As Scotland moves through phase three, the town's businesses are adapting as best they can to the post-lockdown normal.

Dean's of Huntly, one of the town's key employers with an average of 148 workers, is preparing to reopen its now table-service café this Saturday, August 1, with reduced opening hours.

Its gift shop and takeaway coffee stop returned nearly two weeks ago on a reduced-hours basis.

The core manufacturing side of the business was closed for the first three weeks of lockdown.

Bill Dean, managing director at Dean's, which supplies major retail stores, said: "It's quite a journey we've all been on.

"There's a nervousness about people returning back to normal. It'll take a month or two to ease back and that's if all goes well. If there are spikes in Covid cases or negative press that'll prolong the pain.

"We'll be reopening with a limited team on the catering side because we don't know how it's going to be. August is our busiest month but we're just not sure how that will turn out.

"We're still not up to full strength even on the core business side, manufacturing, and that's been a couple of months we've been back – so if it's mirrored in the catering side it's going to be a couple of months at least before we're back to strength."

The gift shop at Dean's of Huntly. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
The gift shop at Dean's of Huntly. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Cheers café/bar owner Paul Slater in the new garden dining area. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Cheers café/bar owner Paul Slater in the new garden dining area. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

Paul Slater, owner at the Gordon Arms Hotel and Cheers café/bar on The Square, transformed a grass patch behind the premises into a decked garden dining area ahead of their reopening on July 17.

The business employs 10 staff, who are gradually coming off furlough. Cheers has extended its hours, opening doors at 8am, and is offering takeaway and deliveries, a new menu, and has plans to use a hospitality app which allows diners to order and pay without leaving the table.

Mr Slater, owner for two and a half years, said: "We have had great support from the Huntly people and want to keep them coming in the door. But it's a troubling time for hospitality.

"It's dying in the town centre and we need to do what we can to get it going again."

Huntly Golf Club, however, has seen an unexpected jump in membership since reopening.

Committee member Trevor Buckley said: "When we opened up the golf course we had 30-odd new members join the club, I think because other sports that we have locally, like football and cricket, weren't running so young guys turned to golf."

Members had to remove their golf gear from lockers when the club closed on March 21, just as it was warming up for the summer season.

Huntly Golf Club committee members David Morrison (left) and Trevor Buckley. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Huntly Golf Club committee members David Morrison (left) and Trevor Buckley. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

The golf course was closed up until six weeks ago. The club bar opened two weeks ago, with a new covered beer garden. The clubhouse is operating a two-metre social distancing policy indoors, rather than the required one metre.

The greenkeeper was taken off furlough after three weeks to keep up maintenance on the well-regarded course.

Mr Buckley added: "It is unfortunate that a lot of clubs will go to the ground – the smaller clubs out in the country that maybe haven't got bar or catering facilities that we have."

It has been all go for hairdresser Cassie McWilliam since reopening on July 15, with her beauty rooms reopening a week later.

Cassie McWilliam, owner of Cassie's hairdressers in Huntly's Bogie Street. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Cassie McWilliam, owner of Cassie's hairdressers in Huntly's Bogie Street. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

She has run Cassie's on Bogie Street for nearly nine years, and said lockdown was the perfect opportunity to carry out a shop refurbishment.

She said: "We've been kept going. The appointments book is full until mid-August."

Elizabeth Morrison, who runs the private Huntly Kindergarten on Steven Road, reopened with a new outdoor play area on July 15 after being closed since March 24.

The nursery is registered for 50 children and normally provides before and after-school care. At the moment it looks after between 12 to 15 children a day, operating at reduced capacity to keep children in bubbles. It is open 8am-5.30pm, four days a week.

Mrs Morrison said: "The children were so excited to get back. One wee one fell and skinned her knees running getting into the place, she was so excited.

"There was a lot of hard work in the background to get reopened – a lot of risk assessments.

"We are hoping that by the beginning of August we can increase our capacity and hours."

She added: "But going forward, we can't expect everyone to work from home. The out-of-school care has to be there.

"There's a lot to be juggled in the next few weeks and it's being left to the wire."

More stories here.


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