High streets support local economies, create jobs, encourage small businesses and inject much needed funds into the local economy, but the high street and the people whose livelihoods depend on it have been hit hard by the pandemic.
This week Bishop Ruth visited Taunton to speak to business owners, retail workers, and customers to listen to their concerns and to offer prayers and support during this difficult time.
“We are thinking of the whole needs of people, in terms of their physical safety, their wellbeing, their mental health and of course the financial health of our county town at a time when it was already under great challenge.”
Bishop Ruth was shown around Debenhams by Margaret Gibbins, Chaplain at the store, and was introduced to staff and managers, all of whom were positive in the face of adversity.
“Sometimes I feel I’ve not been able to support them as much as I would’ve liked, I’ve had situations where I’ve taken two weeks holiday and when I’ve come back in a lot of the staff have gone, there’s not been that farewell, or goodbye, I’ve not been able to offer a last minute prayer and say take care of yourself.
“I think it’s been really encouraging for some of the staff to know that people they feel are a bit divorced from this world are actually taking an interest and care about them. I think that is very important. The staff are very philosophical, they’re always very cheerful, very welcoming, hardworking and committed.”
Nikita Lambert has worked at Debenhams for more than eight years, she said:
“It was really nice to see Bishop Ruth, it made it feel like your part of the community especially in somewhere like Taunton. It’s nice to reach the younger ones as well and to realise we are a community in Taunton not just individuals in a town.”
Bishop Ruth then popped into other businesses in the town before having lunch with members of the Chamber of Commerce. Colin Barrel is the Executive representative for the Chamber in Taunton Town Centre.
“It is heartening to know that there is also pastoral help and care for those who are really struggling to cope with the pressures of running a business, or employees who are very worried about their future when there is so much uncertainty. We hope that the conversation we had will help to improve communication for all our residents, business owners, managers and employees.
There are undoubtedly going to be difficult times ahead, but by working together the Chamber, the Churches and other bodies can really make a positive difference for so many people. We are aware that there is likely to be a working group forming to look at all aspects of how Taunton can survive and thrive in the months to come and we look forward to working with Bishop Ruth and the other members of her team to develop some positivity for the Town.”