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What happens next...?

Updated: May 25, 2023

Like millions of others, I watched the PM's broadcast last night, hoping for a moment of clarity as to what happens next. I didn't get one. And judging by the general reaction, neither did anyone else.

The need for this clarity struck me yesterday while I was out running. As I passed Otley RUFC, the sign that says "All Games Cancelled" got to me a bit. I was on my way out of town, but I'd seen so many signs already to the same effect..."closed until further notice"; "due to the current situation..."

Among all the community spirit, street WhatsApp groups and Zoom calls, there's the other reality of shuttered shops and businesses on the edge.

Each and every one of them has a story behind it, a concerned shopkeeper, business owner or pub landlord. The town was so quiet, with little prospect of it getting much busier. There's something for everyone under normal circumstances...a coffee shop, the book shop, the toy shop. But yesterday, it hammered home to me how much we are being deprived of those quotidian occurrences that just make up our regular lives and we take for granted.

The little interactions that punctuate our days are missing, and while our online catch ups and virtual cups of tea are all well and good, it's not really a substitute for the real thing. We miss the variety, the new conversations and the different characters. They miss us, not only as customers, but in a lot of cases as regulars, friends. The signs in the windows are testament to this.

One of the things I love about Otley is exactly this...the thing we miss just now. The independent shops, and the chatter of the market square. The genuine variety of a town that resolutely supports local business and broadly resists the influx of chain stores (OK, there's a Gregg's, but who can stop that pastry-based juggernaut?)

So, what does happen next?

I know what I'd like to see. The support that has kept Otley such a unique place up to now, coming back out again, when the time is right. Once there is some clarity and we get a clearer route forward, as opposed to the 'roadmap', hastily sketched on a napkin by the PM last night, I want the first thing that people do is to book a table at their favourite pub or restaurant, buy a new book from the bookshop, take the kids to Toyland or buy a scone or a sandwich from your favourite coffee shop.

For one thing, it will be good to eat something that isn't sourdough or banana bread, but it will also send the signal to those behind the closed doors and shutters, there's a positive future ahead for those businesses that make the town what it is.

Yes, our duty right now is to stay home. Or alert. Or something. But we should also take some responsibility for helping breathe new life into the places we live, as soon as we can.

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