We finished 2016 on target in terms of our build and at a nice clean point, with most of the major structural work done in time for the Christmas break. This gave myself, Viki and the retail team a chance to focus on our customers and Christmas in the shop.

This demonstrated more than anything the reliance upon our shop and its services by our customers and just how important it is to keep trading throughout. While the store is slightly upside down and we are running a little lower than our usual stocking level, we have learned just how essential we are to people’s day-to-day lives.

Our free-to-use cash machine is a great example. We have had to remove it temporarily and, despite all the signage, are still in inundated with a stream of customers asking where the cash machine is and when it will be back! This does give us the opportunity to chat and get some feedback on our project, and without exception it has been amazing. If the responses we are receiving translate into footfall later we seem to be creating a real solution to a demand for an improved food offering, both to eat in store or to go.

Interestingly, I was on my travels last week and at a Costa in Manchester airport I was asked “Is this to sit in or to go?”. It was a phrase I observed used by all the servers and one can’t help but wonder if this, too, is a reflection of the rapidly-changing way people buy and eat food, with the old “eat in or take away?” question replaced with the words “sit” and “to go”. I would be interested to hear if any of you have had a similar experience.

The more I read and talk to fellow retailers and trade and brand partners, the more I see the blur between what we used to label retail and catering is clearly happening extremely quickly. When asked what I do, I wonder if the answer now should be “I offer people food and drink solutions to fit with their lifestyle”.

We have also started to engage with customers via Facebook and are charting our journey as we fit out and equip our kitchen and Café Lounge Bar, and shortly start work on the retail refit. This is a crucial element, and the biggest challenge I face is making the two traditional offerings sit comfortably together and complement each other.