Burnley pubs and bars ready for grand indoor re-opening as lockdown roadmap nears next milestone
It's been a long road back for Burnley's bars and pubs who will finally be able to open their doors to the public on Monday.
October 17th was the last time anybody enjoyed a meal or drink inside one of the borough’s venues after Tier 3 restrictions enforced a wave of closures.
While beer gardens were given the green light five weeks ago, the predictably inclement British weather has made al fresco drinking a game of rain roulette.
For many businesses in the hospitality sector though, Monday will mark the first time they have seen their customers in seven months.
Restrictions will still be in place.
Only groups of up to six will be allowed inside – or two households of any size – and venues will still be table service.
But for Kettledrum owners Steve and Robin Reid it's a hugely positive step in the right direction.
"We can open normal times again, which is a really good thing," said Steve. "We're bringing all our staff off furlough, our chef's coming back. We have a great bunch of people here and they get on really well with the customers. We've just missed everybody.
"This feels a real step back to normality. It's needed desperately across the country. It's fantastic to be able to open up again and we can't wait for the 21st of next month when people can go to the bar and get a drink."
The Kettledrum has been making good use of its picturesque outdoor space these past few weekends, with visitors shedding masks for macs and scarves in order to get their hands on a pint or a glass of wine.
"We've had two good weekends, two reasonable weekends," said Steve, who along with his brother delivered meals to the vulnerable to during the first few months of the pandemic. "The cold weather doesn't really work, and we're way out in the countryside so if we do get winds we can get them quite badly.
"It's ok stopping people getting Covid but they're all getting flu now, sat outside in -10 degrees and gale force winds.
"It has been nice these last few weekends just seeing people again though. People have been coming up and saying, 'Oh we've been waiting for this.' It is good to be back."
The prime minister's roadmap out of lockdown has been relatively speed bump free since it was announced, with venues now hoping it's full steam ahead to June 21st and destination 'no restrictions'.
That's certainly the case for Laura and Stef Riley who took over the Hare and Hounds in Haggate just one year before the pandemic struck.
"We had just managed to get the kitchen up and running and were just really starting to see some movement, and then it stopped," said Laura. "It was very strange to go from a full-on, hectic, everybody in your house all the time to having nobody around. It was very isolating.
"We have a lot of customers whose only interaction with other people may be outside of work. They might work on their own, or they might live on their own, and the only time they see other people is at the pub. And from that side I think it has had a massive effect on a lot of people.
"Everyone has been really good. Most people have stuck to rules and helped us that way. They've been very patient with us while we've been getting to grips with the table service which has been the biggest thing for us to overcome."
Laura's excited about Monday's grand indoor re-opening, but it is also very aware of the extra stress it may bring to staff.
"It's another step towards normality, so of course it's a good thing.
"It's just how pubs are going to work it out when they've got their outside areas to police and do the table service, and then there's now the inside area. Are we going to have to take more staff on? Will the staff we've got be able to cope with increased demand if there's people spread out all over the place? We just don't know how it's going to work yet."
The Royal Dyche's Justine Lorriman shares similar concerns.
Despite a highly successful outdoor re-opening, mixed in with the excitement of being back doing what she loves, Justine is wary about the demands all these restrictions are having on staff.
"It's going to be hard opening inside with table service. Me and my staff are clocking up 20,000 steps a day. It's really physically and mentally demanding; remembering orders, people shouting at you, you constantly telling people to sit down.
"We do have a lot of people who respect the rules, but when you have a minority that doesn't it adds a lot more pressure to the job."
Justine, who celebrates eight years in charge on June 1st, wants disobedient drinkers to take a step back and remember just what's at stake.
"Do they want the pubs to close again? That's the thing they have to look at. They should be grateful that venues are open again.
"We're under a lot of pressure from the police and the council to abide by these restrictions. People will have seen how many visits we're getting; the police and the council are on the ball with things like that, so that puts us under even more pressure.
"We don't want to get fined, we don't want to get closed down. It's not our regulars. I couldn't praise our regulars enough; they've been brilliant.
"For us, a lot of it has been the people who have turned 18 over lockdown who've never been to a pub before. So they probably don't know how to behave in a pub."
Turf Moor will welcome fans on Wednesday for the first time since Spurs visited town on March 7th, 2020.
Season ticket holder and life-long Claret Justine has desperately missed not just going on games, but seeing the fans in her pub before and after the game.
"One of my favourite days is Burnley's first home game of the season and Burnley's final home game of the season – the atmosphere's electric, everybody's happy, we have certain playlists on, the same faces we see every week. It's a family base. A lot of the men that come in here, they sit around where my season ticket is. We have a good laugh, and I miss them.
"I actually put in for planning permission for my balcony and outdoor bar in January 2020. This was to accommodate matchdays because I couldn't fit any more in the venue. Ironic that I was building something to get more people in, and I've had limited capacity since."
Town centre bar Mojitos decided not to open for outside custom, choosing instead to focus on May 17th.
Landlord Adam Brown said the venue had been on the up when Covid struck, and one of the hardest things about the last 12 months had been all the stopping and starting.
"We'd turned it around. It hadn't so much died off but it wasn't on the main drag anymore, so we brought it back.
"There's been a lot of hard work put into it by myself, my business partner and my fiancée, and up until March  it was going really well...then the pandemic happened.
"You don't know whether you're coming or going. You feel like you're on a bungee rope most of the time, because you can open at this point, or under this legislation, or you can't open at this point because of however they have deemed the R rate at that particular moment.
"I'm quite a realist. I take each day as it comes. There's no promises been made. At the moment it does look like we'll be able to open as normal on June 21st, but I'm not counting my chickens."
When asked what he had missed the most, Adam instantly replied: "Banter."
Expanding, he said the Ormerod Street bar was a "social circle", especially for older regulars who enjoyed the close-knit atmosphere and the friendly ribbing it brought.
"You have your regular customers who rely on you as a social outlet. A lot of our customers are over 70; we are their main social circle. So there's more to it than just pulling a pint; you're concerned for their wellbeing, too.
"We've got an amazing set of customers, an amazing set of staff, from glass washers to security. We have the level of professionalism, but with the personal touch in there as well; that's what separates us."