Additional reporting by Sam Corner
Pubs, restaurants, hair salons, plus a number of other businesses in the hospitality sector can welcome customers in for the first time since March.
Staff have been hard at work to make sure that everyone can stay safe as we get used to ‘the new normal.’
But how will it be different when you go for that first pint, that first cut and colour, or that first meal at your favourite eatery?
“Saturday will be challenging because people have to get used to the idea of queuing at the door and being seated,” says Tina, the manager of The Bull in Market Place, Romford. “I think everyone’s going for a mad one on Saturday and then looking at the bookings it will settle down and hopefully our regulars will come back and understand the new world we’ve got.”
In line with government guidance, The Bull will be limiting group sizes to six and has introduced table service so that customers don’t have to stand at the bar.
Those wishing to go will have to book a table in advance, with the option to go online and reserve a space or phone up.
But spaces will be limited; to ensure people can keep their distance from each other, Tina has removed many of the tables both inside and in the garden.
She thinks they will be operating on a capacity of just 30 percent and they won’t be able to interact with customers in the same way they used to.
“We can’t just plonk ourselves at the table and have a chat, which we like to do. When we’re waitressing the drinks, it’ll be put to the end of the table and the guests will have to take it from there.
“We won’t be clearing the tables every two minutes like we used to because we want to reduce the time that the staff go back to the table for the safety of our guests and the staff.
“It’s just a different world from what we’re all used to. It’ll feel a bit more like a restaurant than a pub but, hopefully, people will embrace it and enjoy their time with us.”
March certainly feels like a long time ago for Tina.
“It’s the longest I’ve ever been off in my whole career, spanning 37 years, so it’s been lovely but it’s time to get back,” she says. “I’ve missed our regulars as well. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a couple, they’ve passed away while we’ve been closed and that was really sad.
“I think some people have felt like it’s been a bit of a holiday but I think we’re all going to feel the pain and the pinch from here on in. I don’t think life will be quite the same for a few years to come.”
A big change will be that there will be extra time between one group leaving a table and the next group sitting down to allow for cleaning.
Following another suggestion from the government and health advisers, The Bull will be turning down the volume of the music and live sport it’s showing.
The belief is that a quieter environment will lead to customers being quieter and avoid the spread of germs that comes will yells, such as when a football team scores a goal.
“To carry on trading, and it’s so important that we do to get the country back on its feet, everyone must do their part. We’ll have a sanitise station on the way in, there’ll be bottles of sanitiser throughout the business and we’ll be doing more toilet checks than normal just to ensure that there’s soap available, sanitiser available, and I will be the spray sanitiser queen!”
“Over the next few weeks, everyone’s got to be really patient with us. Nothing like this has ever happened in our lifetime. It is different and I hope that everybody that comes in understands that I’m not being a dictator. I’m just saying let’s be safe so that we can stay open and we can keep serving you.”
Another pub re-opening on Saturday is Upminster Taproom, a micro-pub in Sunnyside Gardens, although it wasn’t always certain that it would welcome customers back straight away.
“We were really toing and froing about opening on Saturday,” says owner, Caroline Sheldon. “The worry is with drink that you can become a bit relaxed so we’re really going to closely monitor what people are having and how they’re approaching it.
“We’re all ready for it and we all know what we’re going to do so as long as the customers do their bit then I’m sure it will work fine.”
The Taproom has been closed longer than most venues, as Caroline decided to shut down a week before the lockdown was brought in.
“I kept looking at the pub thinking it’s getting busier and busier and busier,” she said. “On the last weekend we opened, I didn’t come in because of my health. I came in as it closed at 11pm and it was so busy we decided there and then to close it.”
Caroline says she paid her staff in full throughout lockdown and didn’t furlough anybody.
The Taproom then became a takeaway business, opening up as an off-license, with people queuing outside to buy their booze. They then started doing contactless deliveries and will continue to do both of these going forward.
“I just think we did the right thing,” she says. “With coronavirus, you could really infect quite a lot of people and being such a small environment here and very close, it could be a hotbed which is why when we open up now it’s going to be very different.
Being such a small inside space, Caroline says they will only be opening the garden up for patrons.
Groups will be limited to six from a maximum of two households and, while there won’t be a booking system in place, they will need to take details of people before they come in.
Instead of ordering from the bar, drinks will be placed on a table outside to be collected, then dirty glasses can be placed on another table.
Staff have had Covid training and will wear PPE, there will be a sanitising station outside the door to be used on entry.
Caroline is hopeful things will go well for the Taproom.
“We’ve been really fortunate throughout this period; we’ve had a lot of support from all our customers,” she said. “They’ve bought from us regularly, they’ve queued in the heat. We couldn’t have got through without them, they’ve all been patient … no one’s ever complained and we’re really pleased with how it’s gone.”
Upminster Taproom wasn’t the only pub that started a takeaway business.
“We had to adapt as we never did takeaway food previously,” says Daniel Madden, the owner of the Foresters Arms in Loughton.
They started a takeaway menu, selling both food and drink, to pay their bills and some staff were furloughed.
When it reopens tomorrow, the layout of the Foresters Arms will be quite different.
Daniel said: “We used to have a sofa area around the fireplace but we’ve had to take that away to allow for all of our tables to be correctly spaced out.
“The bar stalls are no longer in place as we are no longer having people sitting at the bar. There are ordering points at the bar from a safe distance.
“There is sanitisers on walls and doors from entry and exit. We are still going to keep a serving hatch for the garden so anyone in the garden doesn’t have to come into the bar to limit the amount of people in the pub at one time. There are government posters in various places to encourage people to sanitise and wash their hands.”
Menus will no longer be placed on tables and will be on a large chalkboard instead.
“All our locals and regulars have been calling saying they want to book a table so we are fully booked for the weekend,” Daniels tells us.
Customers will have a two-hour time slot so that as many people can take advantage of the easing of restrictions, he says.
Daniel is however concerned about reopening for the first time in more than three months on a Saturday.
“We all know that once we have a few drinks we become a bit more touchy and tend to get close to people, he says. “We are going to try and keep an eye on that but people need to be responsible for themselves as well.
“Everyone is used to being a little more responsible than they would have been three months ago and if someone is not obeying the rules we will have to take firmer action with them.”
Daniel is encouraging people to help support their local, wherever it may be.
“Your local pubs need you,” he says. “I’m sure all publicans are going to do their utmost to keep everyone safe and sound so please come and enjoy yourselves and let’s hope things slowly get back to normal.”
While going out for a drink is high up on some people’s list of priorities, many people will be rushing to get their hair cut for the first time in months.
Bookings at Paul Falltrick Hairdressing, in Western Road, Romford, are full up for the next four weeks, according to salon manager, Claire Wilson.
When being told they could reopen, they contacted people who had appointments cancelled due to lockdown and gave them priority in choosing their next slot.
“A lot of people haven’t done anything to their hair,” Claire told Time 107.5FM. “They haven’t home-dyed it, they haven’t cut it themselves, which surprised me, I thought a lot of people would start doing home things but they haven’t.
“The clients are so excited to come back. I’ve had a couple who’ve asked a few questions to make sure they feel safe when they come in but the majority are excited.
“A lot of people visit hair salons and it’s a social thing for them. For the older ladies, they like coming in and having a chat. It’s just going to be completely different but we will try to make it as comfortable for them as possible.”
Claire added: “When we’ve made the appointments, we’ve taken everybody’s email address and all the clients are being emailed a list of the changes they’re going to expect when they come into the salon.”
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Those changes include new uniforms that staff can only put on when they get to work. They also have to take them off before they leave and travel home in their normal clothes.
All staff will be wearing visors, with disposable gowns for clients and aprons for staff which all go into a PPE bin after being used. The children’s play area has been removed, there will be no magazines, and they can’t serve refreshments.
There will be no waiting area so customers are being asked to arrive at the time of their appointment and not any earlier.
The large size of the salon does mean that they will have the usual amount of staff and they have not had to reduce capacity.
Once a client has had their hair done, staff will then use a 15-minute gap before the next appointment to sanitise and clean the workstation.
All staff were furloughed, but many have utilised their time at home to do online training to keep up their skills.
“I’ve got 10 staff members – they’re looking forward to (coming back),” says Claire. “They want to come back to doing what they love, which is hairdressing.”
She also says customers displaying coronavirus symptoms are being asked to phone up and rebook their appointment instead of attending.
While operating as a takeaway has not been natural to pubs, the idea lends itself far more easily to restaurants.
But restaurants such as Tandoori Lounge in Hornchurch have still been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and Honey Uppal, who owns the restaurant with her husband Sukh, is looking forward to welcoming customers back to dine inside.
“It is hugely important for all local businesses like ours that we get everyone back on track,” Honey says. “We have been closed for several months and it has made a huge impact not just on us but all the businesses locally. This is a family run business, it is our livelihood, it is something we rely on. At the end of the day, we’ve all got bills to pay and we’ve all got lives to live. It is really important to us that we do have the support of our previous customers and our new customers.”
Honey says that it has been nice for them to spend evenings at home with their children.
“Obviously running a restaurant is very unsociable hours so it’s been really nice getting to spend that time with the kids at home, having dinner together, she said. “But, on the other hand, it’s been a very worrying time for us as a family, as husband and wife, as business owners.”
Now that they are able to fully reopen, things will be quite different in the restaurant.
“We have put measures in place for both staff and our customers,” Honey says. “We have reduced the amounts of tables in our restaurants first of all so we don’t have as many seats available. We have put santisation stations up in several places in our restaurants – as you enter, going in and out of the bathrooms, in the kitchen, at the bar – and also signage up in the restaurant making it clear that it is very important to wash your hands as much as possible.
“I have briefed my staff that we cannot spend much time at each table in terms of having that one-to-one chat, getting to know our customers. We have also provided some sort of PPE for our staff, that being visors and personal sanitisers they can carry on themselves. They have to have their own pen, pencil and stationary sets. We’ve got to have a new procedure overall in the cleaning system for the restaurant as a whole.
“We are encouraging people to pre-book however we are still open for walk-ins. But there will be procedures put in place, according to government guidelines, where we have to ask the appropriate questions for track and trace. So we will have to take your details when you come in. We also have been told the bookings can not be from more than two different families or two different bubbles.
“There will be signage at the door letting people know these are the guidelines and also if you have been feeling unwell or have been in contact with anyone with Covid not to come into the premises.”
Like many of the other businesses we have spoken to this week, Honey is keen to highlight the importance of supporting local, independent companies.
“At the end of the day if you don’t come and see us guys, you’re not gonna have these restaurants and bars open for much longer or these little shops, you know your card shops, your gift shops and it is really important for us as a family and as a community to keep going.”
A similar message comes from Mohammad Iqbal, from Masala Grill, in St Marys Lane, Upminster
“Hopefully people realise how challenging it has been (for all the businesses out there) and how nervous and scared they are and I’m sure they will appreciate all the challenges and hopefully they will support local businesses,” he said. “Hopefully they will come back, they will be happy, they will be pleased with the changes. We are definitely excited but also nervous as well. We want to give them the best service and regarding cleanliness and hygiene.”
On top of trying to keep social distancing measures in place, Mohammad says there will be more stringent cleaning practices in place.
“We have one person allocated just for that: cleaning all the doors handles, tables. Things that we take for granted like salt and pepper shakers.
“Upon entering the doors (customers) will see sanitising alcohol liquid. They will be placed at different locations throughout the restaurant: at the front, on the bar, outside the toilets.
“They will be asked to wait in the lobby area at the entrance of the restaurant before they can be seated when it is safe to do so.”
He says it has been “extremely challenging” but feels they have worked out “the best way to approach this because you don’t know which way it (the rate of infections) is going and you try to do the best you can to make your regular customers feel comfortable again.”
But overall, he says, the main feeling is one of excitement at being able to reopen.
Among the businesses reopening from tomorrow is bingo halls.
Mecca Bingo in Romford will be reopening on Saturday morning, although its manager Kevin Smith has been busy throughout the lockdown.
“I’ve been working throughout at our Mecca Dagenham site, where we’ve been providing meals to the vulnerable in the community in Barking and Dagenham and Havering,” he says. “For me personally it’s been quite a rewarding time while Mecca’s been supporting various local charities around the area.”
Other members of the team were furloughed though and Kevin acknowledges that it was a difficult time for them.
“We’re very excited to be reopening and we’re looking forward to welcoming customers back on Saturday. Obviously we’ve had to follow the government guidelines closely and we’ve been working round the clock in the last few weeks to put into place high standards of health and safety measures so they can come in and carry on with their bingo.
“We’ve been getting loads of calls over the last week or so saying ‘when are you opening?’ so obviously customers can’t wait to get back and see us.”
Throughout their venue, there will be signage to help guide customers with social distancing.
Some chairs and tables have been taken away and the slot machines are out of use. There is also enhanced cleaning throughout the day, sanitation points throughout the venue, and also contactless payments for games, as well as food and drink.
Despite having to limit capacity, Kevin says they can still fit more than 300 people in at any time.
Mecca has extended its opening hours, broadened the range of games and sessions on offer, including a new session called ‘Mecca Care’ which will be aimed at those who are nervous about going out post-lockdown. That will have a more relaxed atmosphere and there will be free coffee, to make people feel more comfortable with ‘the new normal.’
Kevin says: “We’ve taken every measure that we can and the safety of our customers and team is obviously our main priority and we’ve followed the government guidelines that will allow us to reopen.”
All of this work has been carried out with support from local authorities, the police, and also business support networks.
Julie Frost, the Director of Romford Business Improvement District, said: “It’s fantastic news that more local businesses are able to throw open their doors to the public again after such a prolonged period of inactivity. There’s a lot of pent-up demand in our town for a return to a real shopping experience, which also means coffee and food and beer and friends.
“There’s also an awful lot of hair out there and the return of salons means there are no more angry arguments with the mirror in the morning. There’s a great desire for people to be able to take control of their lives and appearances again.
“Romford is a place of community. It’s bringing people back into that space that is the heart of that community and I think we will find a number of people will shop locally because they’re not travelling up to London. They’re working at home, work-life has changed so I think a number of people will be in Romford, particularly as the nighttime economy begins to open people will be going out locally again because they’re not working in London or other areas.
“It’s important to remember that places like the pub, the coffee shop, the hairdresser, the salon, or the barbers, are all places of community. They are the places which help build and sustain our relationships with our fellow Romfordians. Without this, there’s no town centre and that’s why it’s so important that we all shop local.
“A number that we’ve spoken have been wanting to get back for so long and I think being able to ease some of these restrictions and gradually open in different sectors has helped but I know so many of them are just desperate to reopen their doors again.
“I think they’re handling it really well. Initially, queue management had been a bit of an issue but within the first day of stores opening that was sorted and the public are getting used to how they handle their shopping experience now and they’re all just ready to get Romford back open now.
“Loosening of restrictions is not only about the shopper and the consumer but the reopening of these businesses in the hospitality and personal services sector will also allow many hundreds of people in our town who work in these businesses to return to work.
“If you’re unsure of how a shop is managing customers during alterations to be Covid-secure, then ask a member of staff. Be kind to the staff because this is new for them too.”
Havering Council has supported local businesses throughout the pandemic, with help from £40 million in funding from the government. The majority of that money has already gone out to businesses.
New signage has been produced to help keep residents safe when out and about as well.
Damian White, the leader of Havering Council said: “It’s an important part of the country coming to getting beyond Covid but we cannot take this for granted. We’ve all still got to abide by the relevant social distancing rules and regulations.”
Reacting to claims in national newspapers that Havering could go into a lockdown, Cllr White said it was “not accurate” and “sensationalist journalism.”
“But there is a grain of truth,” he added. “There is something behind that and that is that people who do not adhere to social distancing, that take the view that from Saturday, that all of this just comes to an end. They risk plunging some parts of our country back into a lockdown so everyone needs to play their part, they need to be responsible, and they need to adhere to social distancing rules.
“Our focus needs to be to ensure that we keep the rates of infection – that R number – below one locally and support people to adhere to social distancing rules.
“By and large, the majority of people in Havering are being very respectful of the rules and are adhering to them because they know we are in this together.”
Cllr White is warning that businesses which do not comply with the rules could be forced to close.
The council’s enforcement officers and local police officers will be working this weekend to ensure things run smoothly.
People who are concerned that businesses are not following the rules are being encouraged to phone the council’s out of hours number.
Enforcement officers can then be dispatched to speak to the business owners, with the aim of supporting them to be compliant.
“But if they’re not prepared and not willing then we can take enforcement action and ultimately close down those premises,” Cllr White says. “The vast majority of people in Havering appreciate that this is part of the gradual easing of lockdown and, while there is a pent-up demand from local residents to go out and enjoy the nicer weather we’re having lately, they want to socialise in a responsible way.
“So many people I speak with know that if they do not do this, it’s not just themselves they’re putting at risk. It’s their friends, their family, it’s the wider community. Touch wood, we should not have any issues on Saturday but should there be, I know the police have got additional patrols on Saturday and Sunday and the council has stepped up a number of additional enforcement officers – so we do have the capacity to deal with any issues as they come up but hopefully we don’t need to.”
The final word goes to the Chief Inspector for Neighbourhood Policing in Havering, Lisa Butterfield.
Her officers will be out and about this weekend, keeping people safe, and she said: “Enjoy your weekend, enjoy the freedoms that we’re now able to enjoy a little bit more but remember that there is still a risk of infection from Covid and drinking and eating out will feel very different for all of us.
“Things might take a little bit longer but please be patient, have a good time. Try not to overindulge, plan your journey home and have a safe weekend.”
For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FMTags: Romford, Havering, Hornchurch, Upminster, Loughton, Epping Forest, Barking and Dagenham
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