Independent gift shop adapts to Covid-19 pandemic with online success and free local delivery offering

For one independent Ely gift shop the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent furloughing of staff provided time for the business to launch online and start reaching a wider audience, delivering their products across the country.

Helen Watkins, who is the owner of The Eel Catcher’s Daughter on High Street, said an unexpected positive to come out of being placed on furlough was that it gave her time to build up the shop’s website.

Having made use of the government business grant - “frankly, we needed that” - she and the team have since been making local deliveries and all of their stock is now featured online.

Helen, whose daughter also works in the shop and helped to update its social media accounts, said: “Some of the staff were furloughed and I was too for a month at the beginning.

“Then I came out of it and have been working throughout, building up the website side of things until we could re-open.”

Having that focus, she said, “made me get up each day and sort the orders that we did have coming in.

“I didn’t really have any other option. That’s what kept me going and has been a real blessing, and the feedback we got from people when they found out that we were also offering free local deliveries was great.

“They felt it was a bit of continuity - they could do a bit of shopping to send a gift to a friend or as a treat for themselves.

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“I think it cheered a lot of people up, too, which is great.”

Since reopening, Helen said things are improving - “slowly but surely. We’ve been open again for three months and are starting to really feel that things are coming back.”

Helen thinks that’s down to a renewed keenness to support independent businesses.

“People are definitely shopping local and I think that’s the beauty of a small place like Ely.

“They still feel quite comfortable; they can get what they need and the shops aren’t over-busy.

“They can come in and they trust us because we’ve built up a relationship with them over the years.

“Fingers crossed, I think we’re making progress.”