Coronavirus: How is Newcastle coping with local lockdown?

By Fiona Trott
BBC News

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Newcastle relies on £340m a year generated by the hospitality sector

Its vibrant nightlife has earned Newcastle a reputation as a party city, but how are its bars and workers coping four weeks on from the introduction of coronavirus restrictions in the North East?

Peter Cudd is clutching an umbrella as he walks past the empty bar terraces on Newcastle's Quayside. It is not just the rain that is keeping people away.

It is the local restrictions brought in a month ago to stop households mixing indoors and force pubs, restaurants and cafes to be table service only and call time at 22:00.

Peter knows more than most what economic impact these local restrictions have had. The 32-year-old worked at a company which organised stag and hen events and was made redundant 10 days after the measures were brought in.

"It was tough, the realisation I was no longer employed," he says. "But then you look at the news and realise you're not the only person going through these things."

But where do you look for work in a city that relies on £340m from the hospitality sector each year and a sector which has been seriously affected by this pandemic?

Peter explains what the competition is like.

"To start with, there'd be two or three-hundred people looking for the same job. Now it's probably going to be in the thousands. Newcastle is famous for its nightlife, there's always bar work, but now you've no longer got that to fall back on."

Image caption,
Peter Cudd is worried he will be competing against "thousands" of other job applicants

Figures from Newcastle City Council, business group NE1 and InvestNewcastle suggest £20m has already been lost from the city's hospitality industry after local restrictions were introduced on 18 September.

There has also been a trading loss of up to 70% across all businesses year-on-year and more than 20 hotels in the city say only 6% of their rooms are booked between now and Christmas. Those organised parties that Peter used to set up have disappeared.

In the nearby Jesmond area, Debrah Dhugga from Apartment Group showed the BBC the beach created at one of the company's bars.

The firm was quick to apply for a permit to use outdoor space after lockdown was eased in July. Now there are deck chairs, fires and street food vans to try to entice mixed groups of six.

It has made some difference, but the 22:00 curfew and ban on mixing indoors has seriously affected business.

"Since these local restrictions were introduced, we've closed four venues, made 350 people redundant and other staff are on part-time hours," Debrah says.

Hours before, she was at a hotel in County Durham which the company is closing down.

"It really is emotional. There's no getting out of it. Where do they go for jobs? The only reason we're making redundancies is that there's no business around.

"The nightlife is Newcastle's USP, but the streets are empty, the students are isolating, there's no-one around. I've got staff calling me, my phone's been ringing all morning, asking me if they're going to have a job tomorrow."

Image caption,
Apartment Group's Debrah Dhugga says the firm has already closed four venues

At this time of year, Christmas bookings would be filling up fast. Now, bars, pubs and restaurants won't get the bounce-back they'd normally be looking forward to.

Debrah wants the government to rethink the mixed household rule to allow relatives to socialise indoors. Peter is just looking for a job that will tide him over.

"I'm slightly worried about my future. I hope to find something I can get on with over the next two or three months and then look for something better career-wise," he said.

Peter lives in a region with the highest unemployment rate in the UK. Newcastle can't afford another full lockdown, but the council's request for tougher measures has brought its own challenges.

It is something local authorities across England are bracing themselves for as the new tiered system comes into effect.

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