It has been wonderful to see the successful reopening of local shops, gyms, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants over the last week. This second phase of our cautious easing of lockdown restrictions is part of our route back to a more normal way of life. In addition to “non-essential retail”, outdoor attractions, indoor leisure facilitates, hospitality venues and self-contained accommodation are now able to open once again. Funerals can continue with up to 30 people and the numbers able to attend weddings and receptions has risen to 15.
Our high street has benefited from a huge amount of support from central Government, and in particular I’m delighted that many of our shops have been able to access restart grants of up to £6,000 to help them reopen – something I raised in the chamber with the Chancellor. But there is always more that we can do, and that’s why I have requested a meeting with the Secretary of State for Business, alongside the Sevenoaks District Council leader, to discuss the current Government support available, and how the schemes are operating.
I am delighted that over the coming months there are a number of new shops due to open in Sevenoaks town, including a butcher and a baker, with a fishmonger possibly to follow. This fantastic news comes hot on the heels of Sevenoaks being placed as sixth best retail centre in the country by Harper Dennis Hobbs, and one of the top 10 South East towns to live in by the Sunday Times – the only town in Kent (other than Deal) in the top 10. It is brilliant to see our fantastic home being recognised in this way, and I am optimistic about the future.
There are still of course more sites which we hope will be reopened in the coming months. I was delighted to hear over Easter that The Stag in Sevenoaks has been awarded £211,908 as part of the second round of funding from the Culture Recovery Fund. I have been so impressed by the enormous amount of work the Town Council, District Council and particularly the leadership of The Stag have put into keeping the theatre going in this difficult period. I know the central Government funding has, and continues, to make a huge difference. The role The Stag plays in our community has never been clearer, and I will continue to offer my full support to ensure its survival until normality is restored.
Little by little, together we can – and will – overcome coronavirus and ensure Sevenoaks continues to be a fantastic place to live, work, visit and invest in.