Beautiful London village with more than 40 independent shops and no Pret or McDonald’s

Independent shops in one of South London’s most unique villages have spoken out about surviving the Covid pandemic.

Barnes village, in south west London, is famed for the multitude of indie-shops and eateries on its high street.

The street has no McDonald’s and few of the corporate chains you’d find on most London high streets – except for the M&S Foodhall.

The village was ranked as having the most independent shops in the UK back in 2014. The Local Democracy Reporting Service counted more than 40 independent businesses in the village.

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Owner Jane Williams and her mother outside Sun Inn Flowers

Simon Danciger, chair of the trustee board for the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes, said: “Being an independent, we are much more tuned into the community, much more community oriented.

“During the height of the Covid crisis during lockdown, we re-purposed the entire theatre as a production kitchen and distributed for free some 10,000s ready cooked meals.”

The local theatre run over 200 performances a year of professional music, dance and comedy.

He added: “I think the people of Barnes cherish the independence of so many small local businesses.”

Simon said without all the independent businesses, Barnes would be a much “duller place” as independent businesses give Barnes “colour”.

Houses in Barnes

Traditional cottages in the backstreets. House prices are at a premium in Barnes, which is home to a number of celebrities including Holly Willoughby, Gary Lineker and Stanley Tucci

The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to other businesses on their mixed experiences of living through the pandemic or opening during it.

Village business owners, who might not necessarily have weathered the pandemic with as much ease as their corporate rivals, have told how things still aren’t back to normal.

Mina Sheikh opened En Grain with her sister in May this year. The shop is zero waste and sells dried food, such as grains, flour, pasta, teas, spices, crisps and confectionery.

Mina opened during during the pandemic, she said: “We didn’t feel that the pandemic was going to make a difference to us in terms of what we sell on the products – because it’s a passion that we wanted to actually fulfil.

“Regardless of the pandemic, we took the plunge. We’re finding that a lot of people are interested in the concept of zero waste.”

Barnes Richmond business

Mina Sheikh opened En Grain with her sister in May this year

Owner of Classy Cleaners, Imran Haider, said: “During the pandemic, we were closed for a couple of weeks, then the government announced that dry cleaners can stay open.

“But when we came back, there was not much work to do. So I had to get rid of my staff.”

The business opened around 16 years ago and Imran has had to get rid of two of his staff with the others are part-time. Some were on furlough during the pandemic.

He added: “If there was no government support, then we wouldn’t have survived.”

Barnes business Richmond

Owner Imran Haider had to let some of his staff go post-Covid.

Jill Bates, owner of The Real Cheese Shop on Barnes High Street had a more positive business experience of Covid.

She opened the cheese shop 30 years ago and flourished during the pandemic. Jill said the businesses coped “very well” because “everybody’s eating”.

The Real Cheese Shop only shut down briefly during the first Covid wave then it shortened its hours and days.

“We’ve been very busy because the restaurants were shut so everyone was eating at home,” Jill said.

She believes business is slow this month because Barnes’ residents are holidaying for the summer.

Barnes business Richmond

The Real Cheese Shop has been open for 30 years

Sun Inn Flowers owner Jane Williams said during lockdowns: “The council shut us down, which was pretty unfair, as we are outside and a garden centre.”

The shop was first opened by her mother in 1989. She said: “When we were back, people were happy to see us.”

Caroline Bloomfield sells second-hand clothing, and antiques that are recyclable in her ethical shop under the same name.

She said: “Business is tough in London but it is a newer business.”

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Caroline opened her shop in October last year and has another business based in West Sussex.

When asked how her business has survived Covid, she said: “Very badly because the government grant didn’t really help.”

She said she got a grant for her West Sussex branch but not for her Barnes shop as it is a pop-up that she keeps extending.

Caroline said business is “good” post Covid but added: “I think London has definitely not recovered.”

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