Mary Evans has had a couple of good reasons to smile recently.
The young hairdresser is back working, after her employer Cooper & Co Hairdressing reopened after closing for three weeks due to the pandemic.
And since starting back she has learned she is a finalist for apprentice of the year in the NSW Training Awards for the New England region.
Mary started working at Cooper & Co more than three years ago and completed her apprenticeship in March.
"I've always loved the whole hair and beauty thing, and it's a way to be creative but still have steady work," Mary said.
"Making people feel beautiful is one of the things I love."
But that came to a halt in March, when the coronavirus restrictions were introduced, and Armidale recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
"They were slowly giving us different rules," Mary said, adding that they thought it was crazy when the federal government said hair appointments would be restricted to half an hour.
"We were sort of on the fence about closing at that point," she said.
Then at the end of March, Armidale recorded its first case of COVID-19, and Mary's workplace closed the doors.
"We thought, that's it, it's too risky now, we don't want to be exposing too many people to contact," she said.
When they shut the doors it was Mary who broke the news to customers in an emotional video posted on social media.
Apart from spending time at home during those weeks in April - Mary admits there was not a lot she could do at the time - she joined some of her colleagues in the salon for some training sessions.
"We spread ourselves out and it was good to make the most of that time."
After three weeks the salon opened again, some of the staff returned and they have slowly eased back into it, while taking precautions.
"We've been spreading out our appointments so we haven't got too many people in here.
"The three stylists that came back have been pretty fully booked so it's been good."
While all that happened Mary had been nominated for the training awards, and last weekend she learned that she was a finalist.
Following an online interview and a few weeks of waiting she was shortlisted with nine other finalists, and will be part of an awards ceremony on June 26.
"At this point they think it's going to be online, but I guess we'll know closer to the date."
The winner of the regional final progresses to the state awards, which is followed by a national awards ceremony for the state winners.
In the meantime, Mary's focus has been on things returning to normal in her workplace.
"We're keen to get everyone back in the salon and get the team back together," she said.