Derry and Strabane recovery - your small spends can make a giant difference

The gradual lockdown restrictions being eased feels like business is now getting its own version of the Coronavirus vaccine, it’s a shot in the arm for us all at a time when we need it most.

This week marks a huge milestone for the North of Ireland with the hospitality sector now able to reopen their doors, along with a raft of other COVID restrictions easing since Monday 24th May.

Retail has enjoyed a very positive few weeks in terms of getting back to business and our nine stores at O’Neills throughout Northern Ireland have been no different, it has been great to welcome customers back. Early indications are that footfall is strong so hopefully we can see an opportunity for businesses of all shapes and sizes to try and recoup some of the losses suffered since March 2020.

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As with the vaccine, there may be some side effects to reopening, there will be teething problems for some trying to operate within the current guidelines and we’ll learn as we go but ultimately, we will be stronger for the experience and it’s important we work with businesses along the way to support them.

The diversification of our local companies during the pandemic is to be commended, the levels of innovation shown is testament to our resilience as a region.

Small operators have developed online platforms allowing them to function in some manner whilst we navigated through the worst of the pandemic. Similarly, our favourite restaurants moved into takeaways and clever ‘cook from home’ kits.

Indeed, O’Neills arguably made one of the biggest pivots from our day-to-day operations as an organisation, stepping out of our comfort zone entirely to move into the manufacture of PPE for our frontline workers. This was a big step for us as a company but absolutely vital to ensure almost 700 jobs were safeguarded.

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Businesses in hospitality adapting the way they operate was a necessary move to ensure their long-term future, but it’s no substitute for the real experiences they offer in a face-to-face environment.

The removal of the stay local message is an important one for those wishing to visit from neighbouring Council areas.

The North West has an opportunity to maximise the potential of the Staycation season and use this window to make a compelling case to those who would not have considered a holiday in the area before.

We want to see visitors coming into the Council area and staying, spending money and enjoying the experience. Derry and Strabane have plenty to offer visitors and we eagerly await the opportunity to welcome everyone to the region.

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Of course, just like the vaccine our revitalisation will only work if we all play our part.

As Chair of Strabane BID it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to encourage everyone to get out and support all local businesses alike, they’ve had a long hard slog and deserve some success.

So, get out and support your friends and family members who are getting back to work for the first time in months.

Taking the words from the recent local Council marketing campaign aimed at supporting our local operators “Your Small Spend Makes a Giant Difference.”

Kieran Kennedy is Managing Director of O’Neills Irish International Sports Company Ltd.

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