Blackpool is back! Resort celebrates biggest unlocking of lockdown yet
The sun shone on the resort, which today celebrated the biggest unlocking of Covid restrictions yet.
With arcades, pubs, eateries and attractions filled by the sound of chatter and laughter – and the jingling of tills – the excitement was palpable as traders declared: ‘Blackpool is back’.
To mark the big day, a 70m etching of the town’s skyline – including the Tower, Central Pier’s big wheel, and the Big One – was raked into the sand on the beach.
“We are thrilled our tourism businesses can get back to doing what they do best – providing fun and entertainment to millions of people,” tourism chief Coun Gillian Campbell said.
“The last 15 months have been incredibly difficult but finally we can tell the world that we are back in business.”
The easing of lockdown measures meant major attractions like the Tower and Circus, Sandcastle Waterpark, Coral Island arcade, Sea Life aquarium, and Madame Tussauds waxworks museum could all reopen for the first time in months ahead of the upcoming bank holiday.
Other indoor venues welcoming visitors once again include Winter Gardens, Funny Girls, Viva, and hundreds of hotels and guest houses – including the new Premier Inn North Pier, built on the site of the burned down Yates’s Wine Lodge in Talbot Square.
Martin Heywood, boss at showbar Viva, said: “There is finally some good vibes in the resort and we are delighted to be welcoming back guests and visitors.
“We are feeling a range of emotions at the moment but mainly we are all raring to go.”
Tower Circus clowns Mooky and Boo took to the Comedy Carpet this afternoon to practice.
Mooky said: “We’ve been rehearsing for this day since the beginning of the second lockdown and we can’t wait to be entertaining live audiences once again.”
Last month, self-catering accommodation and outdoor hospitality and attractions – including the Pleasure Beach, Blackpool Zoo, and the resort’s three piers – were allowed to open.
The next phase, which would see all remaining restrictions on social contact scrapped, is pencilled in for June 21 – although concern over the Indian variant of coronavirus has cast doubt on that date.
That dark cloud on the horizon didn’t dampen any spirits, though.
Friends Mary Caveney, 69 and Maria Farrar 68, were among the first few to sit down for a cup of tea and a sandwich in the Winter Gardens.
The pair hadn’t seen each other since before Christmas and were enjoying a catch up.
Maria, of Norbreck Road in Bispham, said: “It’s the first time I have been on the trams in over a year and I am really happy to be out.
“Mary and I haven’t seen each other for quite a while and decided we’d meet today.
“It seems really weird to say it but I have found it quite emotional coming back into Blackpool because it has been so long.
“It’s quite a big deal for me and we had been talking about the Winter Gardens so we have come here especially to have a nice gossip and natter.”
Mary, of Willow Bank Avenue in South Shore, said: “I’m slightly different as I have been out a few times as I can’t stand being cooped up in the house.
“I have been very impressed with how all the businesses have been dealing with the lockdown relaxation so it’s really good to be out.”
The pair, who have known each other for more than 15 years, have both had their two jabs and feel safer than earlier in the pandemic.
Maria said: “It gives you a sense of security knowing you have the vaccine in you.
“Perhaps it won’t stop me from catching it but it makes me feel like I won’t end up in hospital with it.
“I don’t like wearing my mask at all but I do it out of courtesy and you don’t have to wear it while you are sitting down having a bite to eat and a cuppa anyway.”
Mary added: “There has been far fewer flu and food poisoning since we all started wearing masks so I’m all for them.
“I don’t like wearing them all the time but they have their plus points.
“It makes you think how many people haven’t been washing their hands all these years.”
Susan and Barry Taylor from Bispham said they think the resort is back in business for good – and had a pint at The Brew Room in Church Street for the first time this year.
Susan, 70, said: “It feels really good to be in the pub again after the year we have had.
“I’ve had problems with my heart and am having tests on it, so it feels great to have something to look forward to and enjoy at the moment.
“We really like the food in here and we knew it would be one of the first places to go once it reopened.
“It’s also great to be supporting local business and workers in Blackpool because they have all been hit hard recently.
Barry, 69, added: “It really does feel great to be doing things in Blackpool again and back in some sort of routine.
“It’s a Marmite town but one that some people really do love and it is great to see people coming back on their holidays here so soon as well.
“For Susan and I, it’s just great to be able to have a stroll round town and pop in for some pub grub, which we have been missing.
“We just have to hope that this is the last of the virus and we don’t get pushed into another lockdown.”
Businessman and former Blackpool mayor Robert Wynne, owner of The Brew Room, The Rose and Crown, and West Coast Rock Cafe, said the response to lockdown relaxation has been super.
He said: “It has been a really positive start for all three places.
“We are offering online table bookings and in the last two weeks we have done 1,200 bookings.
“We are also allowing walk-in customers and the response at West Coast has been brilliant on the first day.
“It’s great to have both Blackpool residents and tourists back in the town and with even more options for them to do something they haven’t been able to do in so long.”
Friends Gail Prasher, Maureen Penfold and Eve Wells from Banbury in Oxfordshire came to Blackpool for the weekend and had been looking forward to the resort’s arcades being open again.
The trio were at Central Pier on the penny machines.
Gail said: “I’ve been coming to Blackpool every year since I was a child and I just really enjoy it.
“With all the restrictions being relaxed we thought we would make a weekend of it.
“It’s just nice that we can do stuff like this again and not be in fear of the virus all the time.
“It does help having the vaccine as well.”
Maureen added: “I think doing things like being at the arcade helps a bit with your mental health as it is something different for your brain to try out.
“We’ve not had much luck yet in the arcade – but fingers crossed we will before we leave.”
And Eve said: “The thing I most enjoy about Blackpool is the same thing I have missed in the last year – socialising. Everyone is so friendly here and they make you feel welcome.
“It’s always good to get the opportunity to come and we have all had a good weekend of shopping, drinking and enjoying being out with friends again.”
James Mulachy from Liverpool visited with his family and also took advantage of the arcades reopening to entertain his children, Jaiden, three, and Jasmine, six.
He said: “We hired a lodge for the weekend because the children really love it in Blackpool.
“It’s really good to get away from your house because after so long you get sick of seeing the same thing all the time.
“We head back today but it was good to get them into the arcades after so long.
“Each relaxation of the lockdown feels like normality is being resumed again and it has definitely put a smile on Jaiden and Jasmine.”
Since midnight, people in England have been able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30, and indoors in groups of six, or two households.
Pubs and restaurants are able to serve customers outdoors, although they are still limited to table service.
Other recreational venues such as cinemas, museums, theatres, and concert halls are allowed to open, although there are capacity limits on large events.
Up to 30 people are allowed at weddings, and the cap on the number of mourners attending funerals was lifted, in line with the safe capacity of venues.
Secondary school pupils in most areas are no longer being told to wear face masks in class and communal areas, and university students can return to campus for in-person lectures.
The ‘stay in the UK’ restriction has lifted and people can travel to ‘green list’ countries without having to quarantine, provided they take on post-arrival test.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT?
Boris Johnson and health experts urged people to exercise caution when they head to pubs and restaurants as the lockdown eases despite concerns about the spread of an Indian coronavirus variant.
Although ministers believe the vaccines will be effective against the highly transmissible Indian variant of concern, there are worries about the impact of its spread on those who have refused to have a jab or not yet been offered one.
The Prime Minister urged people to treat the latest easing of restrictions with a “heavy dose of caution” while Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned against excessive drinking for those returning to bars.
Mr Kwarteng insisted the June 21 date for the ending of restrictions in England was still likely to be met.
He said “people should have common sense, they should use judgment and I think if we act in a reasonable way, there is no reason to suppose that we can’t reopen the economy entirely on June 21”.
He added: “We need to be cautious because if we get too carried away and the mutant variant spreads too quickly, that could endanger our ability to open up on June 21.”
Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Government’s Sage scientific advisory panel, said the chances of the June 21 date being delayed was “well less than 50 per cent” but added “it is uncertain”.
The main cause for concern is the Indian variant, which is on the way to becoming the dominant strain in some places including Bolton and Blackburn.
A major campaign has been launched to encourage people in those areas to receive a jab.
Mr Kwarteng said he did not want to “stigmatise people” over vaccine hesitancy, but said: “We’re not exactly where we want to be among certain communities but I think the take-up has been much greater in the last few months and more and more people are convinced that this is the way to keep themselves and their families safe.”
Dr Helen Wall, who is leading the vaccination effort in Bolton, said over the weekend more than 6,200 vaccines were administered in the area.
She said before the weekend there were around 10,000 people in the area in the highest priority groups, those deemed to be clinically vulnerable and the over-50s, who were yet to be vaccinated, but added: “I’m hoping that we’ve made a big dent into that now”.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said there were “concerns” about small numbers of older people who are yet to take up their vaccine offer.
“The biggest risk comes from, if there are large numbers of older people who are unvaccinated,” he said.
Mr Kwarteng defended the timing of tougher restrictions being imposed on travel from India amid speculation decisions may have been delayed due to the Prime Minister’s planned trade mission to the country in April.
India was placed on the red list, effectively banning travel except for returning Britons who had to go into a quarantine hotel, on April 23.
“It is easy with hindsight to say things could have been better or quicker and all the rest of it, but I think there was a balanced approach,” he said.
Despite the pleas for caution, some drinkers took advantage of the relaxations to sink pints shortly after midnight yesterday.