TRADERS at Barnsley’s outdoor market returned for the first time since March to ‘surprising’ levels of shoppers - and their indoor neighbours are confident the town’s residents will continue to shop local.

The market, aside from a few key workers providing food and essential goods, has been closed for ten weeks since the coronavirus lockdown was announced.

But with Covid-19 announcements still sounding out over the town centre’s PA system, outdoor traders were allowed to return to their stalls on Monday.

Neil and Susanne Conway, of Neil’s Bedding and Towels, have been taking orders online during the lockdown and returned to positive numbers of customers.

Susanne, who’s been trading alongside her husband for more than 20 years, told the Chronicle stalls had done everything they could to make sure the reopening was as safe as possible.

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“We’re working differently by keeping a two-metre distance and having hand sanitiser, screens, gloves and signs,” she said.

“There are so many of us here that are positive about a return to normality.

“Barnsley is a market town, and it always will be.

“People want to get back.

“I can’t speak for all the traders indoors, but the ones I have spoken to are ready to get back to work.”

Last week, Barnsley Council announced that outdoor traders would be supported by a grant for up to six months’ rent, as well as being encouraged to submit claims for the government’s self-employed income support scheme to reclaim some of their lost trading profits.

Indoor traders are expected to return from June 15, initially on reduced hours from 8.30am to 3pm Wednesday to Saturday.

Measures including social distancing markers, a one-way system and limits on total customer numbers are expected to ease the transition into more regular hours when the situation is reviewed in August.

Initial concerns over whether traders could garner the business needed to cover running costs have been allayed by the council’s decision to suspend rents until October, even if they decide to move back in on opening day.

The council also pre-empted the government’s small business grants and offered each business on the indoor market £10,000 before receiving the government funding.

Nikkie Higgs, a trader of 20 years’ experience now running Sweet Treats, said: “The council has taken the pressure off, now we’re only concerned about taking money.

“It’ll dramatically reduce our overheads, so that a quiet day won’t be nearly as impactful.

“That first day will set the boundaries for the next few weeks.

“We have to work with our customers to make it as safe as possible.

“And if we can build up a decent level of business from the start, long-term it should look after itself.

“We were really taking off just before the lockdown, and it stopped us in our tracks in a way.”

Nick Smark, of The Original E-Cigs Company, added: “It’s been a long time. I can’t wait to see my customers again.

“Traders on the outdoor market said they expected it to be quiet, but everyone did really well.

“No-one could have foreseen any of this coming.

“It will be steady to start with, but it’s not about making silly money, it’s about being there and building people’s confidence back up.”

Maria Cotton, Barnsley Council’s markets and towns manager, said the reopening of the outdoor market brought a ‘renewed optimism’ for the next steps in the town centre’s recovery from the lockdown.

“Markets have long been the centre of the local high street and for about 40 per cent of people in Barnsley, it’s the main reason why they go into the town centre,” she said.

“It’s been great to see so many old and new customers today and hear all their positive comments on the measures we have put in place to keep people safe.

“We hope to see an increase of shoppers on the high street as more small businesses open up.”