Covid: Bingo is 'biggest thing I've missed in lockdown'

By Laura Devlin and Laurence Cawley
BBC News

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image captionJamie Olweny says it was strange to be back calling out the numbers after the lockdown

Dancing Queen, 17. For Bingo fans, 17 May has finally arrived, meaning they can once again step inside their beloved halls and get their eyes down for a full house. The BBC spent the morning in Great Yarmouth to find out what being back the bingo means to those taking part.

Half an hour before he reopens the doors to his bingo hall, Patrick Duffy is not sure what to expect.

He knows lockdown triggered a sense of grief and deep sadness among many of his regular customers.

He knows he can comfortably accommodate 300 people even with social distancing restrictions.

image captionPatrick Duffy, managing director at Palace Bingo, says even with social distancing measures his Great Yarmouth venue can comfortably accommodate 300 people

Any worries he may have had were allayed, however, when he went out to the foyer to welcome his customers back.

There was a queue of at least 30 eager bingo fans waiting for the doors to finally open at the Norfolk venue.

And when they did, each customer was treated to a glass of bubbly and a warm welcome. Oh, and a fresh 'dabber' to mark their cards (in case they'd lost theirs during the lockdown).

'It is the biggest thing I've missed during lockdown'

image captionBob and Margaret Lusher say they have hugely missed their bingo outings

Margaret and Bob Lusher are regulars who come from Norwich to Great Yarmouth for their bingo outings.

"It is a friendly club," says Mr Lusher.

"We've missed it so much - our friends, the bingo, everything. I have missed this more than the shops," says Mrs Lusher. "I would rather come here than go shopping."

"It is the biggest thing I've missed during lockdown," says Mr Lusher.

Asked what he most wanted from his visit, Mr Rusher says: "A win. That would be nice."

"And to see our friends," says Mrs Lusher. "We've not seen them for about six months."

'I've missed the social side of it more than anything'

image captionMother and daughter Jill and Jo Millman have missed the social side of the bingo

Mother and daughter duo Jo and Jill Millman used to come to bingo every Monday. Now they are back.

"It's the atmosphere, the other people, the company," says Jill.

"You get a nice three-course meal as well. It is really nice.

"I spend most of the weekends on my own so it's lovely to come out on a Monday. I've missed the social side of it more than anything."

A family tradition

image caption(L-R) Helen Liddle, Laura Crawford, Anne Keer and Chloe Payne

Bingo is something Anne Keer and her family Helen Liddle, Laura Crawford and Chloe Payne all enjoy together.

Ms Keer is visiting the others from Scotland and a day out at the bingo together has become something of a family tradition.

"It's relaxing and good fun," says Ms Keer. "If you win, you feel all buzzy."

"I like the social side of it and spending time with family," says Ms Crawford.

"It is a bit of fun and we all have a laugh together and we might win some money," says Chloe Payne. "It is just a great day out."

'I'm thrilled it is open again'

Judith Knowles says: "I'm thrilled it is open again.

"It is lovely to see all of your friends again. It has been a long time."

The family and friendship connections people have here are part of the reason people felt the loss of bingo so deeply, says Mr Duffy, the managing director of Palace Bingo.

"We've had hundreds of phone calls and the relief with people is incredible," he says.

"There was so much sadness when we closed. People were very worried and concerned.

"But today everybody is very enthusiastic.

"The bulk of our customers are regulars.

"We know nearly every customer and often their children and grand children as well."

Given concerns about how shouting and singing can spread coronavirus, are people still allowed to shout Bingo when they get a full house?

"We haven't changed it," says Mr Duffy. "We still stick to the excitement of shouting Bingo very loudly."

'I'd forgotten what some of the buttons were'

image captionJamie Olweny knows most of the regulars at the bingo hall

For those calling out the numbers, being back behind the mic was a surreal experience.

"It did feel strange," says deputy to the manager Jamie Olweny, who stepped in to call the numbers during the morning.

"I'd forgotten what some of the buttons were. But everybody was really excited and it was nice saying hello to everybody."

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But while it was great to be back, he says there is a sad reality that some of their customers may have died in the past five months.

"We know most of the regulars here," he says.

"And as the week goes on we will start realise that some of our customers we might not see again.

"We'll get to know who is not going to be coming any more."

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