Businesses reliant on tourism for their income have expressed fears that the local economy could struggle to recover if social distancing guidelines remain in place in the long term.
Hospitality business owners say that, with a high reliance on Harrogate Convention Centre for their trade, having it out of action – either while in use as a Nightingale hospital or because social distancing does not allow events to take place – is extremely worrying.
While many say they understand and agree with the Nightingale hospital remaining on stand-by, it leaves a question mark over the income of dozens of local businesses reliant on tourism and corporate events. Kim Wilson, chair of guesthouse association Accommodation Harrogate, said:
“It’s great it’s there and empty – we don’t want it to be busy – but it would be nice to have some deadline of when things will be back. I do appreciate nobody has that information though.”
The convention centre website says it contributes around £60m to the local economy, and its director has vowed to do all she can to support local businesses.
Having opened in September 2017, No 35 coffee shop on Cheltenham Crescent initially closed during lockdown, but re-opened offering take-away drinks at the beginning of May. Owner Nino Cutino said:
“Every year we’ve seen an increase in trade, which is good. We’re only very small, so a lot of our trade is the convention centre and take-away. I’m just unsure what’s going to happen. No-one knows.”
Mr Cutino said he fully supports use of HCC as a Nightingale hospital, and believes leaving it there for some time is the only sensible option, in case of a second wave of Covid-19, even if it impacts on local businesses. He added:
“It’s worrying, but we’re all just going to have to adapt, to try and overcome this.”
Ready to re-open
The Stray Ferret revealed last week that Harrogate Convention Centre is not currently being paid by the NHS for its use of the site, which is owned by Harrogate Borough Council. The current agreement runs until June, with an option to extend until July, and could continue beyond that if a new tenancy is agreed.
HCC director Paula Lorimer said: “We’re working hard behind the scenes to ensure we are ready to re-open once the time is right. Re-opening will be entirely dependent on government guidelines and advice, and at this time we continue to put the health and safety of our clients and staff first.”
Some autumn events have been postponed to future dates, but she said there are still large events booked in which will go ahead with social distancing measures if possible.
Among those rescheduled to autumn is the Nursery Fair, now set to take place from October 18 to 20. Show organiser Adrian Sneyd said:
“Naturally, even looking this far ahead, safety of exhibitors and visitors is of primary importance and we will be taking advice and implementing methods to ensure that the show provides an effective business platform without putting participants at risk. This will be based on guidance applicable nearer the time but might need to include precautions such as having a different layout with wider aisles, considering how visitors access stands, and providing plenty of hand sanitizer.”
Upper Street Events, organisers of the Knitting & Stitching Show and Country Living Christmas Fair – which each bring thousands of visitors to Harrogate in the weeks before Christmas – said they were planning for the events to go ahead. A spokesman said:
“We are working hard behind the scenes and very closely with the venue and partners to ensure we are adhering to guidelines with regards to Coivd-19 and social gatherings for all events we run as a business. As organisers we are also exploring options around social distancing, hall layout, staggered entry, capacity and other health and safety aspects. At present we are not looking to explore other venues for either event.
“Decisions may change in line with Government advice, but all being well we look forward to be back in Harrogate later this year.”
The next scheduled event at HCC is in August and Ms Lorimer said plans are being made for it to be held safely. With a large venue, she said spreading events out into more space is possible, and HCC is sharing ideas with other venues for the best ways to achieve social distancing.
Ms Lorimer said she was working with organisers to reschedule events, rather than cancel them completely, which will help to support the recovery of the local economy as the crisis ends. She added:
“Harrogate Convention Centre is working closely with the HHTA (Harrogate Hospitality and Tourism Association) and other businesses over the next few weeks to share information, and to see if we can help support our town retailers as much as possible. Harrogate Convention Centre is the largest driver of economic impact, not just in Harrogate but the region, and we understand the important part we play in supporting the prosperity of the town.
“We are also pro-actively planning to target emerging industry sectors to ensure a healthy pipeline of activity. We will be back, better than before, just right now we don’t know when due to the current uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.”