Pint in the warmth and hugs return as restrictions eased

It’s good to be back! That was the verdict from both customers and Shropshire's hospitality venues as they finally opened their doors – indoors.

Steve Walsh, Linny Keen, Doug Hunter, Michael Flynn and Brendan Collins at The Griffin Inn, Oswestry
Steve Walsh, Linny Keen, Doug Hunter, Michael Flynn and Brendan Collins at The Griffin Inn, Oswestry

Pub, restaurant and cafe owners, and managers, had the warmest of greetings for customers old and new, as drinkers and diners could finally come in from the cold, rain, wind, hail and thunderstorms that have put a real dampener on eating outside.

It was the first time this year indoor tables could be laid and customers could enjoy the comfort of being inside rather that eating and drinking in coats – despite the ingenious marquees, covered deckings and even beach huts that have been put up at venues across the county.

The first pint to be enjoyed inside this year at The Griffin Inn, Oswestry, went to a special customer, Linnie Keen.

Linnie, from Whittington, is the cleaner at the pub and was given the honour of the first indoor pint at the table she had cleaned hours earlier.

And while she enjoyed being in the warm, she admitted she was still a little nervous about the virus.

“It’s not as if it has disappeared overnight,” she said. “The virus is still with us and re-emerging in parts of the UK. When the weather allows I think I will feel better socialising outdoors. We still need to be sensible.”

Hywek Owen and Barrie Clegg from Oswestry

Friends Hywel Owen and Barrie Clegg popped into the snug at The Griffin to celebrate the latest relaxation of lockdown and the return to indoor hospitality. Both in their 80s, neither had bothered with sitting in pub gardens, preferring instead to wait until they could enjoy a pint inside.

For Doug Hunter, the chance to sit and chat with friends was as important as his pint.

He said, as a single man, the lockdowns were extremely lonely but he had been grateful to spend them in Oswestry nonetheless.

“I’m originally from Northern Ireland, went in the Merchant Navy and spent 45 years in New Zealand,” he said.

“When I moved to the UK about 10 years ago I looked around for somewhere to live and when I came to Oswestry I immediately knew I had to live here. I would have been completely anonymous in a city and the pandemic would have been just awful.”

As someone with hearing problems he was also grateful to be able to take his mask off, once seated at his table.

Company

Regulars Brendan Collins, Michael Flynn and Steve Walsh all have Irish roots, as do the licensees, Gary and Carol Brennan and son, Connor – and they said it was the warm Irish-style welcome they appreciated most.

And while agreeing the south Shropshire-brewed Three Tuns bitter was going down a treat, it was the company they had really missed.

“I can honestly say that you might come into this pub a stranger, but you will leave as a friend,” Mr Collins said.

“It is a wonderful place.”

Young couple Nick Davies and Lois Powell were enjoying a meal in the Griffin while their 15-month-old daughter, Zola, slept in her pushchair.

“We took her to the soft play centre, which was something else we could do today for the first time this year and she absolutely loved it,” Lois said.

Nick runs the Nicholas Llywelyn Barbers also in Albion Hill.

Carol Greenway and William Greenway, from Telford, at The Griffin Inn, Oswestry

Telford couple Carol and William Greenway, from Newdale, popped into Oswestry after a trip to the Dapol model railway store at Gledrid to buy parts for William’s lockdown project – building a model railway in his loft.

“I ordered items online in lockdown but it really isn't the same as shopping in person,” he said.

“We came into Oswestry and were delighted to find The Griffin. I was in the trade for many years and this is a wonderful, traditional pub.”

Licensees Gary and Carol said the British weather had not been kind for outside seating over the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve had customers sitting under umbrellas is dreadful weather, I’m sure they will be pleased that they can now come inside.” Gary said.

Hadley Park House Hotel's Jason Morgan and Amanda Round are getting ready to invite overnight guests in as coronavirus restrictions ease

Preparations were also in full swing at Telford’s Hadley Park House Hotel as they welcomed their first overnight stay guests as the coronavirus tourism restrictions lifted.

Delighted staff have been busy decorating and a recruitment drive is also in hand to fill more than 20 vacancies in readiness for a raft of functions including 90 wedding celebration bookings after scores of couples put their nuptials on hold due to the pandemic.

From this week accommodation businesses – including hotels, bed and breakfasts – can host groups of up to six people or two households, or bubbles.

Bosses at the Hadley Park East venue have devised an action plan including promotions to build up trade.These include its sparkling afternoon tea competition, the Short Breaks Long Memories package and a Disney-inspired Frozen afternoon to attract tourists looking for stay at home breaks.

Hotel director Mark Lewis said: “To be honest it feels very much like we’re opening our doors for the first time due to the length of time we’ve been in shut down.”

Weddings

“We are very excited at reopening. We are decorating at the moment. We have 90 weddings between now and December so it is going to be very busy.

“We lost a few staff during the lockdowns due to natural wastage. Thankfully the staff were on furlough and there were no redundancies. We would normally have 50 and this has dropped to 23 now so we are recruiting and are making new appointments.

“We have managed to survive and are ready for trading. May will be a bit patchy due to the restrictions, but hopefully things will be fully lifted for the industry in June which will be the next stage of the roadmap.

“We have managed to get some government funding support to help with marketing.”

Mr Lewis said the themed packages were designed to attract visitors to explore heritage trails and fun days in nearby villages and towns plus the Ironbridge Gorge museums.

Under the national guidance guests in overnight accommodation should stay socially distanced from anyone they do not live or share a bubble with.

One of the region’s most famous attractions has also welcomed entertainment-starved families back for the first time in months.

The free entry air force museum at RAF Cosford is one of the high-profile attractions finally given the green light to reopen this week as part of the Government’s ongoing relaxing of Covid restrictions.

Edward Swift, Roxann Swift and and Charlie Swift, aged 22 months, from Telford, at Cosford Museum

Monday, the first day under the new rules, couldn’t come soon enough for some families who made Cosford top of their lists for a family day out. Though the spectre of Covid still looms large – pre-booking is essential to allow space, walking routes are one-way and hand sanitiser stations are ubiquitous – the familiar attractions including the impressive aircraft, the fascinating Cold War exhibition and the new Battle of Britain display still delight fans young and old.

One of the youngest enthusiasts to enjoy her visit was two-year-old Bea Barber, a plane-mad toddler who had been promised a day out by her parents Kat and Sean. The Shrewsbury family, who also include Bea’s younger brother, Fox, had never been to the museum before coronavirus, but they weren’t going to miss the chance to explore and see the wide variety of planes.

“It’s nice to be able to come and do normal parenting things,” said a visibly-relieved Kat.

“I think it’s just normal to wear masks now, we would feel weird not doing it. It’s not a big deal wearing them. It’s nice that the kids’ group have started again, that’s what has made the most difference to us.”

Next on their wishlist is the cinema – they haven’t had a chance to see a film on the big screen since Fox was born six months ago.

One of the most popular attractions is the new playground outside the museum’s visitor centre. It was extensively tested before the reopening date by children from Albrighton.

On Monday, Roxann and Edward Swift took 22-month-old Charlie for a play on the airfield-inspired playing equipment.

Roxann said: “It’s been great to have a bit of normality back.

Bryony Owen, 4, from Codsall at RAF Cosford Museum

“We came here just before they locked down the first time, the little one was very little then.

“We’ve spent so long trying to find somewhere outdoors to go, I don’t mind spending some time indoors again!”

Mark and Eva Dyson came all the way from their home in Yorkshire to admire the Cold War exhibition, with Eva on a retreat in nearby Herefordshire.

Mark said: “We’ve never been before, it’s our first time. It’s been on our list for a long time.

“It’s well-organised, I don’t think the overall experience has been lessened by the restrictions. I don’t feel that we’ve been cheated in any way!”

Barry Smith, the museum’s commercial director, said: “We’ve been closed for five months.We’re a visitor attraction– it’s not the same when there’s no visitors here.

“It’s been busier than we expected it to be. We’ve had just under 500 visitors [on Monday]. Around this time of year we expect that to be around the 200 mark.”

Asked whether he expects the visitor numbers to stay high, he said: “It’s very difficult to predict. One thing I can say is we’ve got half-term coming up and it’s already almost booked out.

“Certainly the family periods are very busy, kids have been locked up and it’s time to get out again, and they want to make use of that.

“We expect to have a really good summer.”

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