Will it be business as usual in Kilkenny - local Chamber of Commerce CEO on the latest moves to get local business going

Kilkenny Chamber CEO John Hurley on the government's roadmap to reopening

Will it be business as usual in Kilkenny - local chamber of Commerce CEO on the latest moves to get local business going

The award winning restaurant Zuni on Patrick Street, Kilkenny has implemented their safety protocol with a one way in and another way out system. They have introduced clearly marked social distancing

The recently announced Government Roadmap to reopen the economy on a phased basis has many of us chomping at the bit eager to get back to normality as soon as possible. Indeed, if they are to survive, businesses must re-engage in doing business as soon as possible. They are not designed to withstand prolonged periods of shutdown and the past few weeks of imposed lockdown has caused huge damage. Businesses are in business to do business and the emphasis must be on enabling that to happen in a way that prioritises the safety of both staff and customers.

This raises some important questions. Are we ready to return to normal? What does normal mean these days? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that this happens? Certainly, we cannot expect that with a flick of a switch, everything will return immediately to exactly what it was prior to the lockdown. Much has changed in the interim and many of those changes must carry through to how things happen going forward. Covid is not gone away completely and it must not be given a chance to re-emerge.
The Government, acting on expert advice, has announced its plan for getting Ireland back to work – safely. This involves a phased return to business whilst taking appropriate safety precautions and utilising the various financial and advisory supports that are available. It may sound simple but there is a challenging road ahead for us all and everyone must play their part.
Kilkenny Chamber has been proactively engaging at every level from Central to Local Government and with a wide range of stakeholders including Business Owners, their Employees, the Local Authorities, State Agencies and other Representative Organisations to plan for re-opening the economy. The Labour Employer Economics Forum (LEEF) will shortly produce a Protocol document laying out what everyone must do to facilitate a safe and successful reopening of the economy.
So, in practical terms, what will this look like in the shops and streets of Kilkenny? We are already familiar with the use in Supermarkets and Pharmacies of Perspex screens, face coverings, hand sanitisers and social distancing and we can expect these measures to continue for the moment in all shops and streets. This will be a considerable challenge given the size and layout of many such spaces but compliance is essential.
A key component will be to identify ways to make our towns attractive places for people to begin visiting again. During the lockdown, we have become use to staying away from town and perhaps going to the supermarket only once a week. This will have to change over the coming weeks as businesses reopen and are ready to engage with their customers again. Businesses need the support of their customers and customers need to feel that it is safe for them to come to town again.
It may be necessary for us to review the layout of our shops and streets so that they are safe spaces for people to traverse while maintaining social distancing. For example, many of our streets and footpaths are narrow and force people to step off the footpath onto the road while passing others and maintaining two metres apart. Clearly changes must be made to facilitate this safely. Can footpaths be widened temporarily through the use of line markings on the ground? Can roads and footpaths be merged into share spaces which are safe for both pedestrians and vehicular traffic to use? Can features be designed into the roads and paths that slow down traffic and encourage people to park the car and walk through the streets? Should we have conversations around traffic management, pedestrianisation and one-way systems? Kilkenny Chamber has already been involved in consultations with Businesses, the Local Authority, the Town Centre Task Force and the people of the community about how this can be made work in our City and towns throughout the county.
There is general agreement that more needs to be done than just announcing that all shops are open again. Open shops need customers and footfall to enable them to remain open. The individual shop owners will be tasked with ensuring their own premises are fit for purpose in the new reality of social distancing. Equally the town planners and Local Authority will be tasked with adapting the public realm and open spaces in a way that attracts people and visitors back into the town centres that have been empty for the past weeks. Sadly, we cannot entice visitors by having festivals and events and this is unlikely to change any time soon. However, there is much that can be done to promote our town centres as safe and attractive places to visit and use again.
We are tentatively reopening our economy and it is essential that we do so successfully. It is the responsibility of us all to make this work. We all have a role to play and by working together, we can make Kilkenny the attractive and dynamic shopping destination we have come to know and love.

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