Shoppers embrace new mask rules on busy first day in Preston
For the English public, the wearing of face coverings has been optional in most situations throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but as of today, wearing a mask is considered essential in shops.
The questions on everybody's minds are - in which shops do I need to wear a face covering? What rules are in place and will I face a fine if I don't wear one? How will these new guidelines be enforced by stores across the country?
The Government has now decided to act after months of debate about the effectiveness of wearing a mask, meaning that police now hold the power to impose a £100 fine on anyone refusing to wear a mask in a shop or a supermarket.
On Preston's high street today, the public were responsive to the change - with one shopper, Charlotte Farringdon commenting: "Been out shopping this morning in town. Loads of people are wearing masks but also some not. I am guessing it's a bit impossible to police and enforce."
Unlike on public transport, retail staff are not expected to enforce the rules, although they will be encouraged to prompt customers to comply, as seen in Green Pheasant Gifts and Clothing, Winckley Street.
Lockdown hit just 14 days after the bespoke furniture store opened its doors, with owner Jade Barson saying it was a "scary time, but the support of social media and local people has been a blessing."
She said: "Someone came in our store before without a mask, he had been turned away from St George's shopping centre and was a little bit upset because he didn't think he would be made to wear one.
"I have tried to keep up to date with the government guidelines as much as possible and because I am also selling masks in here, people have been coming in to buy them specially."
When asked about how she would manage mask-wearing in her small store, she said: "I certainly wouldn't want any confrontation but as a new independent business I am following the guidelines and asking customers to abide by those rules and wear a mask.
"I don't think mask wearing has put people off because Preston high street is very busy today and nearly everyone I have seen has worn a mask. Today it has really picked up, but it's hard to notice a pattern at the minute as far as customers go."
Another independently owned store, Action Records, on Church Street, has had the "busiest morning in months", claiming every customer has abided by the new guidelines.
Owner and music fanatic Gordon Gibson said: "I think that something about wearing the masks today that makes people feel safer but I also think it is peer pressure that is making people wear masks.
"If people walk in the door not wearing one, I will be reminding them that it would be probably better for them to do so. I have also bought the disposable masks for my customers, particularly the elderly ones, to wear incase they forget.
"Making people wear masks is good because it is a visual reminder for people that have become bored of all this. It reminds you we are still in this situation. Some people think it's over but it isn't really."
It was clear that for business owners had the same prying questions on their minds today. They wondered how this could impact their businesses and how they would police these new rules.
On the whole, Preston's Fishergate and surrounding shops were a sea of eyes today, with the majority of shoppers complying with the new guidelines and covering their mouths and noses.
This is no surprise, after there was a reported increase in the use of face coverings by people across the country. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said more than half of adults surveyed in the first week of July had been using a covering while outside their home.
Mark Whittle, Preston BID Manager said: “BID’s free face covering facility has been busier than usual this morning, as the government’s mandatory rule came in to force today.
“Retailers have told us that the majority of people visiting them this morning are wearing face coverings of some description, and where staff have politely reminded those who are not, they have been happy to put one on.
“We continue to encourage shoppers to pop a face covering on when visiting shops and shopping centres in Preston in order to help protect themselves and others – we thank Preston’s many visitors who have done so since June 15th, voluntarily”.
A Downing Street spokesman told the BBC earlier in July, "There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus."
Scenes of a positive reaction to mask wearing could also be spotted at Preston's busking indoor and outdoor market, as stall owners talked to the Post about their experience with shoppers this morning.
Gail Maudsley, 63, of Sheridans Bags stall, said: "It hasn't made much of a difference and has not stopped people coming out. Of course, people are uncomfortable with them on, but I haven't had to remind anyone yet today.
"I do think generally the public are scared, and the virus has definitely affected business, but I don't think that wearing a mask makes it any different. From what I have seen today I think if people are coming out, they might be complaining whilst wearing it, but they have still been putting their masks on."
Fresh and Fruity is another stall in the newly refurbished market - with shop assistant Rebecca Taylor, 27, agreeing that the majority of people came prepared with the small fabric face coverings.
She said: "There has only been one or two walking through without their masks on today but market managers have been on the ball asking people if they are okay to wear one.
"Most people have had masks in their pockets anyway and may have just forgotten to wear one. It is difficult because we don't want to be turning business away as it has only just started picking up again.
"With the lockdown and new guidelines, at first we were a little bit worried about how it would impact our business but we are also offering delivery service for those who don't feel safe coming out even with a mask or if it is too much of an inconvenience for them."
Happy couple Peter Watson, 41 and Michelle Henriksen, 43, of Print and Gift Box, have transformed their business and made humour out of the new safety measures, printing personalised smiley faces onto masks at the outdoor market. The innovative idea came as a way to make people feel at ease in what they describe as a "frightening situation."
Peter said: "Because we are outdoors, most people have been coming up to us without a mask on, buying it, and then wearing it when they continue shopping.
"Wearing masks is making more people feel at ease and realise you can still go out and do the things you want to do, just with extra precautions. Yesterday we thought it would be quiet today, but all of a sudden it just perked up and everyone seems to be complying to the mask wearing."
It seems that stores across Preston have escaped unscathed as a result of the newly introduced guidelines, with market stalls, high street shops and independent businesses claiming that the weather and masks have made shoppers feel more at ease when shopping.
To stay updated with the current government guidelines, visit gov.uk.