AS THE coronavirus lockdown continues to ease, photographer Justine Desmond and writer Daisy O’Clee have been capturing a socially distant snapshot of Brighton.

This week, they have been out in North Laine and Kemp Town. They found shop owners delighted after reopening but worried about the future, as well as shoppers keen to be back supporting independent businesses.

For the fully gallery visit www.brightonpeep.co.uk or www.instagram.com/BrightonPeeps

The Argus:

Misha Brigemohane, 37, owns Rose Hill Boutique, a gift and home accessory shop in Kensington Gardens.

She said: “Right up until last Sunday the streets around here were really quiet. When I came in on the Monday it was so emotional to see people in town, to see life gradually returning. It was like the first day of opening a brand new shop. At the end of the day I felt really uplifted.”

During lockdown Misha continued to trade online, but said her business could not have survived on internet sales alone.

“I have made about ten per cent of what I would normally take in a month,” she said. “The Government grant and not having to pay business rates for a while does help a bit, but I still don’t know how I’m gong to pay the rent.”

Misha said financial worries and isolation had hit her hard at the beginning of lockdown.

“Like a lot of people I think I had a bit of light depression,” she said. “I was very anxious. I had recently started living on my own again, which made things even more difficult. I had made plans to get more of a social life again, but that went out the window. The one person who helped me through it was my friend Lisa. We went for walks along the seafront. It completely saved my life.”

Misha said is hopeful things will improve. She said: “It is great to be back, but there’s a long way to go.”

The Argus:

Alice Rivers-Cripps, 41, owns a jewellery company called Posh Totty Designs.

She said she found her calling while travelling and working in Mexico in 2001.

“I had many jobs while I was out there, but one of them was with Mayan jewellers on a beach,” she said. “That’s where I became passionate about jewellery. I came back and started developing my skills.”

Posh Totty Designs employs 50 people and has a jewellery workshop, a shop in Sydney Street, a concession in Elys of Wimbledon and a London shop in Islington.

Alice furloughed 46 workers at the beginning of lockdown, but a small team continued to make jewellery and take orders online.

“At first I felt terrified,” she said.

“I was worried the business would dry up and we wouldn’t survive.”

Alice would normally be based in the workshop, but since March she has had to taken on lots of different roles.

“Experiencing every aspect of the business again has been a real awakening,” she said.

“I have realised how hard my team work.”

Alice is gradually starting to bring her staff off the furlough scheme as the company gets back up and running.

She said: “It has been lovely to be face-to-face with customers and have a good old chat.

“I’m a shopkeeper at heart – that’s my passion.

“I really want to continue the bricks and mortar business, but we can only do it if people keep coming.”

The Argus:

Maria Zau, 25, and her one-year-old daughter Chanel moved in with Maria’s best friend at the beginning of lockdown.

“She was living alone, I was living alone, and she’s Chanel’s godmother, so it made sense,” Maria said.

Maria is in her last year of a geology Master’s degree and has found writing her final assignment challenging.

She said: “I should have had two months in the lab for a micro chemistry analysis, but instead I’ve had to base my dissertation on a literature review, which I don’t like as much.

“When I go to classes Chanel usually goes to nursery, which was closed for a month.

“It’s been hard to juggle.”

Maria said she is happy to see Kemp Town starting to get back up and running.

“It was quite stressful, staying at home all day, not being able to take Chanel out much, and not even having the option to go out for a coffee,” she said.

“I had never seen St James’s Street so quiet. There’d only be one or two other people.

“It’s so nice to see people walking about and shopping again.”

The Argus:

Neil Rushton, 50, has owned Hunter Florist in St James’s Street for nearly five years.

The shop stayed open during lockdown, taking online and telephone orders.

There have been big changes.

“Weddings have been postponed and all contracts stopped,” Neil said.

“Now people are ordering flowers to brighten up their homes, for someone’s birthday or just to say, ‘How are you Mum?’

Neil said it has been harder to get hold of certain plants, but things are getting back to normal.

He said: “During the height of lockdown, deliveries were coming from Holland two or three times a week, so you’d have to think more carefully about what you needed, but now it’s reverted to normal.

“If I order by 11am, the flowers arrive the next day.”

Neil’s regular driver has been shielding, so his co-worker has taken on deliveries while Neil works alone in the shop.

“It’s my business,” he said. “If you don’t put the work in, you’re not going to get through it.”

He may have been working harder, but Neil finds joy in what he does.

“Plants are more to me than just a job,” he said.

The Argus:

Megan Lewis lives with her mother and stepfather in Hove.

She has just turned 25 and celebrated in the garden.

“I don’t like big events, so it was perfect,” she said.

Megan’s job involves finding university and college places for students across the world.

She said: “A lot of students will defer until next year.

“Others will consider doing a couple of terms online.

“Universities have invested a lot of money in online learning.”

Megan is furloughed until July and said she has missed work and seeing her colleagues.

She is happy to see the return of the high street.

“It’s lovely to be able to come into town and go to my favourite cafe, which has just reopened,” she said.

Megan has enjoyed browsing the shops for the first time in months.

She said: “People have got used to going to big brands online. They might save money that way, but I want to support local shops. We need to protect these businesses to keep them alive.”

The Argus:

Gina Case, 27, has worked at Jolliffes coffee shop in Kensington Gardens for five years. She spent the first few weeks of lockdown feeling anxious.

She said: “At the beginning I was really worried because of what was happening and how it was reported in the news. Also, I didn’t think the money would come through from the Government.”

Gina then started to appreciate the time she was able to spend with her flatmates. They have been making meals together and sitting on the beach in the evenings. “I’ve never had that much time off, but I feel bad saying I’ve had a nice time when other people have been suffering,” she said.

She said business has been slow but steady at the coffee shop. She has had time to make sausage rolls and the owner’s daughter has baked brownies and lemon drizzle cake.

Gina has enjoyed returning to work more than she expected. “Everyone is a lot more friendly and chatty than before,” she said. “They’re pleased you’re here. I feel there’s more of a sense of community.”

The Argus:

Suzanne O’Leary, 39, is a glass artist. She owns a gift shop called Little Beach Boutique in North Road.

Alongside her own screen-printed glass pictures, Suzanne sells work by other independent designers including jewellery and ceramics.

She set up shop in 2014, deciding to turn her glass-making hobby into a career. She has been selling online throughout lockdown.

“We moved to online sales when we had to close the shop,” she said.

“The website has been doing better and has become a much more viable part of the business.

“I’ve been putting together care packages containing little things like aromatherapy room spray and bath salts – things that are intended to make people feel good – and delivering them for free in Brighton and Hove.”

Suzanne is pleased to have opened her shop again.

She said: “There is something really unique about going into a shop.

“It’s about the atmosphere and having a conversation – you can’t recreate that online.”

She is hopeful that businesses like hers will be able to survive.

“The optimism comes and goes,” she said.

“The first Monday, we had a lot of people coming in. It was really supportive – people were making a special effort to go out shopping and most people bought something. But that night, there were a lot of reports about queues and crowds in the news. I wonder if that put people off.”

• The coronavirus Sussex Crisis Fund has been set up to help those affected by the pandemic. The Argus’s charity and American Express have each donated £50,000 to kick-start the appeal. Grants will usually be for up to £5,000. More information is available at www.sussexgiving. org.uk/apply. To donate visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/appeal/sussexcrisisfund