Lockdown easing: 'I cannot face the crowds inside the pub again'

By Jo Black, Sam Read & Phil Shepka
BBC News

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image captionAndy Ball said he had been struggling to find staff for his pub

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the go-ahead for hospitality to open indoor spaces to customers from next week. What do those tasked with readying their venues following this latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions think of the decision?

Andy Ball is the landlord of the Old George in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, and has been taking advantage of the outdoor space near his establishment.

"It's really paid dividends," he said, stating that other similar venues nearby that had similar space did not choose to use it.

"We've been able to serve the community and for some people it is a lifeline to come and meet other people, at distance of course."

media captionPM Boris Johnson warns the public not to "throw caution to the wind"

Mr Ball said the latest unlocking would see a "treble or more capacity to entertain our customer base".

But he said he needed more staff and was "finding it hard to recruit".

"I think people realise there's a lot of hard work. With table service only there's a lot of legwork involved and there's long hours," said Mr Ball.

"Also, meeting a lot of people very much face-to-face, masks given, but there's a great propensity of people in the industry, a lot are under 30 who haven't been inoculated."

image captionJohn Kaylor has been in the industry for about 16 years

John Kaylor has run the Dolphin pub in Newport Pagnell for four years and he too has been utilising the outdoor space the establishment has, with a stretch tent covering.

He said they "can now seat up to 50 people outside with sensible social distancing, so even in the worst weather we've still got people in the pub, which has been fantastic".

But, while they will re-open inside from 17 May under "controlled conditions", he admits he and his staff are apprehensive.

"I'm quite nervous about hospitality being open too early. It sounds like I'm going to shoot myself in the foot when I say that," said the 60-year-old.

"We've waited so long and I think I can speak on behalf of all of hospitality, we've all made sacrifices over the last 12 months. I just feel personally we should have all waited another couple of months, just to be 100% sure that this is the last lockdown.

"I feel it would be a great shame if we open too early and we have to shut again."

He said he felt sorry for those that had no outside space, but felt the government should delay re-opening pubs in their entirety.

"I just cannot face the crowds inside the pub again," Mr Kaylor said.

"It almost scares me the thought of 60 people in your pub, 10 deep at the bar, all queuing for drinks. I just can't imagine going back to that again and I don't really want to.

"I think people have actually enjoyed the experience of having their own space at the pub, not being pushed around, not on top of each other - it's more of a night out for people now."

image captionKylie Baucutt (front) alongside staff members Sarah, Abi and Zoe

For Kylie Baucutt, owner of Miss Havisham's Tearoom in Stony Stratford, she said she was "not particularly" concerned about letting customers back inside.

"We always insist they wear a mask unless they are exempt and we do ensure they stay in their seats," she said.

"We do keep a close eye on them to make sure they're adhering to guidelines. I think we've done the best we possibly can - I hope our customers do feel safe."

She said they had been closed for about eight months across the past year and they were "looking forward" to seeing regular customers back.

"I think it's just a step towards some sort of normality and for the whole country to get back into the swing of things.

"We do have a lot of older clientele who probably may be a little bit more nervous to come back in, which is why it's great we have the courtyard as well because they like to sit outside, weather permitting."

Ms Baucutt said she was grateful for the furlough scheme and council grants "so it's not extremely dire but it's not brilliant... but we're still here, that's the main thing".

image captionThe Stables in Milton Keynes lost 95% of its income overnight

Monica Ferguson, chief executive and artistic director of The Stables venue, said it had been a "really tough" year.

"We've had to cancel or postpone hundreds of events - some of them have been rescheduled five times in that period," she said.

"We lost 95% of income overnight immediately after the first lockdown - we've had to rely on support from Arts Council England and the Cultural Recovery Fund, and many of our customers and individuals with a crowdfunding campaign."

She said it was a "huge relief" that live music would be returning, with a series of three events planned with social distancing, before normal events hopefully restart in June.

"Most people have been nervous about purchasing tickets so we had sold very little up until Friday - but we've sold 4,000 tickets since then," she said.

"It shows a degree of confidence about people coming back in to live music venues."

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