CONFIDENCE is growing among Sunderland shoppers that they are safe in the city centre, according to a new survey.

Reminders on social distancing, one way systems and numerous hand sanitisation units have encouraged people who previously were anxious to move away from online shopping and support local businesses.

These are just some of the findings of a survey commissioned by Sunderland BID, to measure the reaction of people now that city centre retail and hospitality is again open for business. And the overall feeling was one of cautious optimism over returning to the city in person.

The research, carried out by local agency MMC, was a follow up to a previous piece of work carried out ahead of the opening of non-essential retail in June. Findings at that time showed that there was a general feeling of apprehension about the relaxing of lockdown, concern over adequate safety measures and worries about people abiding by the rules.

It was these first results that helped the BID and other members of the city’s Recovery Task Force put together its plan for moving forward and to ensure that shoppers felt safe when they returned.

Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland BID, said the first survey had helped inform the actions across the city.

“It was very obvious from the results of the first survey that people needed to feel reassured that they were protected in the city centre and that we addressed every area of concern,” she said.

“This is why we’ve created highly visible reminders, but in fun and informative ways, to ensure that everyone remembers to social distance and take all the necessary precautions – and that we did what we could to make this easier for them.”

The new survey showed that the likelihood of people returning to the city centre to shop had risen from 51 percent in June to 60 percent, with a number of people moving away from shopping online in favour of visiting shops themselves.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed had visited the city centre since non-essential shops re-opened, with 40 percent of those praising the one way systems, reduced entrances and exits and social distancing markers.

People were still feeling cautious about visiting pubs and bars and said they would not be rushing back, contrasting to an even split of people who would be returning to cafes and restaurants.

“The results show that we have been moving in the right direction,” said Sharon.

“Of the people surveyed who hadn’t visited the city centre, 37 percent said it was because they had no reason to go at the moment rather than not wanting to return.

“What is also very gratifying to hear is that one of the reasons people have come back is to support local businesses, which is massively important for the city centre economy.

“While COVID-19 is still with us so we can’t afford to ignore the safety measures, we are delighted that people have responded so positively to returning.”

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