Over the past seven weeks, the UK seems to have fallen back in love with its local businesses.
I’ve even done it myself. Visiting the local pet store, making more use of the corner shop. Heck, we’ve even started getting a daily newspaper delivered – something I haven’t experienced since being a child!
When the coronavirus lockdown was first announced, we immediately postponed all appointments. Customers were amazing – some even offered to pay upfront and ‘come and do the sweep once this is all over’.
There were some genuinely touching comments at a time when we all needed a bit of reassurance.
The overriding message of ‘Stay Home’ became the national mantra, which is entirely understandable. Yet for some of us, it also wasn’t particularly helpful.
Because, in the ‘small print’ there was actually nothing to stop tradespeople going to work. If you could observe social distancing and put measures into place, then you were perfectly entitled to carry on.
However, it soon became clear that nuanced message wasn’t cutting through. On social media, tradespeople were being ‘named and shamed’. Photos of vans were appearing on local Facebook groups with a whole host of derogatory comments attached.
It didn’t really help that many people wrongly assumed that, if you weren’t a designated ‘key worker’, then you shouldn’t be working (the keyworker list was merely a list of specified job roles which would give you the automatic right to send your child into school).
There were fierce and passionate debates among tradespeople themselves.
However, for many, the potential PR damage from these inaccurate and misguided social media ‘gotchas’ forced many to down tools. Many haven’t picked them up since.
Seven weeks on and the Prime Minister is about to address the nation again on the next phase. It’s been widely trailed that some of the lockdown measures will be eased.
Ministers feel the economy, which has crashed, needs sparking back into life now.
However, if this is the road they are now going down, they need to understand how tradespeople are very much key to this recovery. Every day, thousands of vans are on the roads, visiting homes and carrying out important works.
So on Sunday, the prime minister needs to make it clear that those of us who fall into the gap of not being either a designated key worker but whose business can operate, are permitted to do so. In the strongest possible terms.
This will help stop any misinformed criticism, and also help restore confidence to customers who, after almost two months of hibernation, may be understandably nervous about letting people into their home.
As I said earlier this week, professional chimney sweeps are usually well ahead of other trades when it comes to the use of PPE. The nature of of work means that masks and gloves are a staple part of our kit.
Since the advent of Covid-19, many of us have been putting additional measures into place to ensure we can carry out our important functions.
This isn’t mere ‘lip service’ – it’s a genuine wish to do as much as we can to work as safely as possible.
As we emerge from lockdown into this ‘new normal’, we’ll notice many changes. But what won’t have changed is the amount of jobs need to be done.
For me, chimneys will still need sweeping, stoves will still need servicing and birdguards will still need fitting.
Let’s hope Boris Johnson strikes the right tone on Sunday, and gives a nervous nation the confidence to help kickstart our stalled economy.
As I said at the beginning, Britain has rediscovered just how important local businesses are.
Let’s build on that and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to ride this out together…
Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.