AFTER being almost vacant during months of lockdown, there was a buzz in Oswestry town centre again this week as lockdown restrictions were eased.

Non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality, hairdressers and other close-contact services were all able to reopen on Monday in line with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

It saw an influx of keen shoppers flooding back into Oswestry to make the most of the relaxed rules, as many made their first venture into the town centre of 2021.

Rob Wolstenholme, general manager at Square One café, in Festival Square, said it was a delight to see people back in town and supporting local businesses.

He said: “Everyone was walking past with full shopping bags from local businesses yesterday and there were lots of nice haircuts and new shoes about.

“The morale of people has just been brought right up – there were smiling faces everywhere and the sun was out which made things even better.

“We’re so grateful that we have been blessed with the support we have had over the past year.

“We’re very aware all of our customers have helped us get through it and we’re happy normality seems to be coming soon.”

Rob believes footfall in the town has already been helped by the Shropshire Council and Oswestry Town Council free parking initiatives.

Parking is set to be free at all council-run car parks in the town until April 25.

Rob added: “It was great to see the town opening and the local businesses being back after being away for most of the past year.

“The volume of people in town was great and that will have been helped by the free parking which has been a big draw.

“It’s great to know the councils are working with us. The car parks were full yesterday and the weather was fantastic, so seeing the footfall yesterday was brilliant.

“It was a really nice day and we had nothing but compliments and the outdoor area really looked like the life of the square.”

Many people were desperate for a haircut after months without an expert to look after their locks, and that was evident at Icon Men in Cross Street.

Queues stretched along the pavement outside the shop, and owner Sher Mills was pleased to see some familiar faces again.

She said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be back open – it has been great.

“There were a lot of people who hadn’t been out in months, so it was wonderful to have a good chat and laugh with them all and see people in good spirits.

“It was almost like coming out of hibernation, everywhere was opening up again and busy, and it makes it look as though light is at the end of the tunnel.

“The initiative of free parking is without a doubt having a good impact.”

Abi Francis-Jones, manager of Barkers in Smithfield Street, said she also believes the free parking initiative has been a boost for businesses, and is hopeful ahead of the coming weeks.

“It’s just great being open and having people coming in – it was steady all day on Monday,” she said.

“I think people are still being quite cautious, but it is great to be back open.

“We’re just taking one week at a time at the moment – it was great to see Festival Square so busy and everyone being out.

“I think town may get a bit busier again next week when children go back to school as some of them are still on school holidays.

“The free parking means there isn’t a barrier there to deter people from visiting the town, so it’s great and a positive thing for the councils to do.

“For all of us it has been a massive help and encouragement for people to come here.”