Lockdown loosening relief as Leighton Buzzard businesses reopen and welcome customers back inside
'This is the most crucial period coming up for local businesses who have been hanging in there'
Leighton-Linslade businesses reopened for the first time in months or prepared to welcome customers back indoors as the next stage of lockdown restrictions relaxed yesterday morning (May 17).
Now, pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants are allowed to serve customers inside; indoor entertainment (museums, cinemas and children's play areas) can reopen; theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadiums can open; and organised adult sports and exercise classes can restart indoors.
Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can also reopen.
Speaking to the LBO yesterday, Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of LB First, said: "I was in town today chatting with a few local businesses. I spoke to Nikki, the landlady of the Black Lion, who was excited to welcome customers back inside, and I spoke to Caroline from Room 9, who was doing a nice, busy and brisk trade. She spoke very positively about the town in general.
"It was Sorelli's first day reopening and they were absolutely jam packed! Their new takeaway Piccolo opened last week and that's been doing a brisk trade.
"I spoke to the ladies at Olivers bakers, too, and that's going really well, that's busy. And I spoke to Andrew at Stratton's Food Hall. Again, they are busy, and they are going to continue with the queuing system."
LB First is liaising with Leighton-Linslade Town Council and Central Bedfordshire Council regarding ideas to welcome back customers to the high street.
There are also plans to have some low-key, live music in the high street on non-market days to enhance the "positive, uplifting" feeling as the town reopens.
Meanwhile, Gennaro told the LBO that LB First is tentatively planning Independents' Day for the first Saturday in July. Leighton Buzz Radio will be taking part and LB First is hoping that some businesses will have stalls at the market for the event; however, this will depend on whether the government relaxes the Covid-19 safety measures in June. Otherwise, digital and virtual celebrations will take place.
Gennaro concluded: "This is the most crucial period coming up for local businesses who have been hanging in there. They have got everything ready and are all set to go. You can expect a very warm welcome from our local independent businesses."
James Drew, landlord of The Golden Bell, which first opened outdoors on April 12, told the LBO: "We have been really busy. People have really come and supported us. We've had a really good atmosphere and good feedback.
"I think people are coming back out again. I think people notice that bigger companies get bigger and smaller companies disappear if you don't support them. There are great shops in Leighton Buzzard, great businesses, and great restaurants - and within walking distance for many people in the town.
"Thank you to everyone for supporting us while the heavy restrictions have been in place.
"We are going to keep an eye on the restrictions and carry on being the centre of the community as we always have been."
Serafina Di Meo, who owns Sorelli Cafe Restaurant and Piccolo with Jo Garvin, said: "It's been amazing. It was the first day back for Sorelli's and it's been really busy. Customers are so happy to be back and able to sit inside.
"Piccolo opened on Tuesday 11th, and everyone was so happy and enthusiastic. We've got our own cakes, pastries and focaccia bread, as well as freshly made sourdough from Tring.
"We've exposed the wall on one side in Piccolo, and it is over 400 years old.
"We're one of the oldest buildings in the high street apart from All Saints Church."
Paulo Benfeito, owner of Amore Pizzeria, told the newspaper: "We are not going to reopen inside; we are just keeping it as deliveries. We might spend the money on visors, dividers, and then the government could say that because of the Indian variant we will have to lock down again. We had to make a decision either/or.
"We are changing the dining area into a kitchen. With the new rotating oven from Italy [arriving on June 6], we can cook 12 pizzas in one go. At the moment, we can only do four. We're also launching our £5.95 pizza menu on 14th June.
"Thank you to our loyal customers. Thank you for their patience. We are not opening up [for dining in], but please come out support your local restaurants."
Commenting on Friday about the easing of restrictions, Roger Smith, owner of the White Horse B&B and pub in New Road, Linslade, said: "I'm looking forward to it! The garden is open now and the B&B is open for workers. It will be good to get the punters back inside because of the weather; it's been atrocious in April and May!
"My punters have been really supportive, out in the garden come rain or shine. I've got a TV in the garden with the sports on and a marquee with all the sides off.
"The B&B has got seven rooms and some of them are self-contained anyway. But I have three rooms which share the same hallway so I could only offer one of those.
"But come Monday we can use all the rooms, so that's great!"
As for socialising, people are now allowed to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors, six people or two households are able to meet indoors, and overnight stays are able to take place.
On May 17, there was also a new green list of countries and territories.
On the gov.uk site it states that before you travel back from these countries to England you must: take a COVID-19 test, book and pay for a day 2 COVID-19 test – to be taken after arrival in England, and complete a passenger locator form.
Talking to the LBO on Friday about the impact on the travel industry, Chris Bailey, Managing Director of Bailey's Travel, Waterborne Walk, said: "I wish the government would deal with the health of the population by shutting the borders, so we can restart the domestic economy. Then they could deal with the [travel] sector, and say, here's a bit of cash until we can get things started up again.
"I am entirely in favour of the government imposing travel restrictions. We should not be tolerant of this latest variant [the Indian variant]."
With the potential complications of foreign travel, Bailey's Travel has plenty on offer for UK breaks, including cruises stopping in places such as Edinburgh, Orkney, The Shetland Islands, and Belfast.
He added: "Thank you to my staff in Leighton Buzzard for keeping it going. I would like to say thank you to every customer that rang up to talk to us, every customer that knocked on our door.
"Jane who is my manager runs a very efficient operation for me and we are looking forward to welcoming everybody back in.
"We are still here and we are not going anywhere. We care about our customers and we are not going to do anything that puts them at risk."
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