Covid: Business as usual in Ilkley as restrictions lifted

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image captionIlkley town centre has a mixture of independent shops and high street brands

Rules on social contact and masks have relaxed in England, and in Ilkley it seems to be business as usual.

The West Yorkshire spa town is in the Bradford district, which latest weekly figures show has a coronavirus rate of 507.8 infections per 100,000 people.

A popular tourist spot, it is also home to dozens of small shops and eateries along its main streets.

Shop owners, hospitality staff and customers have weighed in on the changes.

'Can't just switch pandemic off'

image captionMax Crane of La Stazione said you 'can't just turn off a pandemic'

At bustling cafe La Stazione, which has seen business boom during the pandemic with a rise in takeaway services, co-owner Max Crane said things would be working "as normal".

He said: "When I opened up this morning, I did the first half hour without a mask, but just from looking at the customers I felt it was the wrong time.

"There are other businesses in Ilkley who are keeping the masks, and I think we all need to stand together."

He said they will continue to use the outdoor seating area only, and ask people to wear a mask when they go inside to use the toilets - but it will still be a matter of choice.

"I sent a message to my staff to say this is it, the masks can come off, but it just doesn't feel right.

"I think it's a case of follow your gut, stick together. If you feel fine, that's fine but someone else might not. You can't just turn off a pandemic."

'Wear a mask if you can'

At independent bookseller The Grove Bookshop, a sign by the door reads "masks preferred," and inside the shop things look just as they did before the rule change.

Amy Verity, Assistant Manager said: "We are still using masks, we have our screens up, we are using sanitiser, but of course our customers are free to make their own decisions.

"We just feel it's safer for staff and it's safer for customers.

"We're just asking, think about it, wear a mask if you can, but you certainly don't have to."

image captionA sign in The Grove Bookshop reads 'masks preferred'

'You lose the power'

Barbers and hairdressers have a different challenge, as they are in close contact with customers for a longer amount of time.

Owner of Dexter's, Josh Matthew, said his staff would go without masks, but would be happy to put them on if a client preferred.

"We have to meet people where they're at," he said. "We will be asking people what they'd like to do when they come in and if they'd rather us wear our masks then we will, but if not then that's fine too.

"The government has taken the responsibility off themselves and put it on us. Without the weight of the rules you lose the power to tell people to wear their masks, and if we try to enforce that, I think it will be negative for us."

"I've spoken to the guys who work here and they're ok with the policy. they spend all day wearing a mask so putting it back on for maybe 10% of the time isn't that much of an ask."

image captionDexter's will be asking clients their preference on mask-wearing as they come in

'It's a matter of reviewing it'

Colin Butler, manager of Friends of Ham bar and charcuterie on Wells Road, said: "We're just going to carry on because as things stand, we still have staff who aren't double vaccinated and we have got to look out for them.

"Also, we have customers who said they wouldn't feel comfortable if things went back to normal straight away, and if staff keep getting covid and have to isolate, then that causes problems.

"We are going to keep a limit on numbers indoors, we will encourage table service, but I think it's a matter of reviewing it week by week and seeing what the mood is."

image captionWith many younger staff still not double vaccinated, Friends of Ham feel cautious

'We are still missing a chunk of customers'

Not all hospitality feel the same though. At The Dalesway Hotel, landlord Ian Collins feels ready to do away with restrictions, but understands some customers still feel nervous to return.

He said: "We are taking away all the restrictions that were in place, so now people can come in, they can sit at the bar, there are no Perspex screens anymore.

"Staff don't have to wear masks but it's at their discretion. Hopefully, things will get back to normal."

"We are still missing a chunk of customers though, the older couples who come to Ilkley for a day out and want a traditional pub lunch, we still need to convince them."

image captionPerspex screens have been removed from the bar at The Dalesway Hotel

'It's up to people to safeguard themselves'

People in the town seem happy to keep wearing masks too. Luke Raven, who is a co-owner of Ilkley Brewery, said: "It is really nice to see people out enjoying themselves and feeling a bit more relaxed, but it is nervous from a business point of view.

"Bubbles bursting at local schools for example is really affecting our business, and that's a real struggle."

image captionLuke Raven, co-owner of Ilkley Brewery, said rising infections are affecting businesses

Kathleen Wilkinson, 83, said: "We think Boris has let it run, and it's up to people to safeguard themselves."

George Stokes, 84, said: "We live in flats and we wear masks in the corridors and things, we look after ourselves."

image captionKathleen Wilkinson, 83, thinks it's time people took the responsibility themselves

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