Hallelujah! Or hold fire?
By Emma Harwood
A cry of ‘Hallelujah!’ could be heard from the benches when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that pubs could reopen for business from this Saturday.
But the decision to further ease lockdown restrictions to allow some of the hospitality sector to start trading again has been met with decidedly more caution by the town’s landlords, café owners and restaurateurs.
After three months of closure they are obliged to make their premises Covid-secure in accordance with guidelines published on 23rd June before reopening.
Plastic screens around bars, table service and ordering by phone app are just some measures being implemented in Hastings venues to this end.
Further requirements include limiting contact between staff and customers, and maintaining a social distance of two metres – or one metre if ‘mitigations’, such as frequent cleansing of surfaces, handwashing, masks or screens, are in place.
Moreover, customers’ contact details must be recorded and kept for three weeks to assist the NHS test and trace scheme.
From Saturday, people from no more than two households may stay overnight in hotels and bed-and-breakfasts; at campsites, too, as long as shared facilities are kept clean. Tourist attractions such as the West Hill Lift, galleries and museums will reopen in the town as soon as they can do so ‘safely’.
But concerns about crowds flocking down to Hastings this Saturday has prompted one venue to err on the side of caution.
“We will not be opening this weekend,” says Bob Tipler, co-landlord of The Albion in George Street.
“Just because there’s a potential that, if it’s sunny and half of London comes down here, it’s just not going to be manageable. So we will probably open quietly during the following week, maybe doing limited hours from Wednesday to Sunday.
“I don’t think we’ll be doing food initially, we’ll just feel our way in and see what demand is there.”
The Lord Nelson, in The Bourne, will also not be opening straight away, with landlord Jack Doyle posting on Facebook – “Please stop messaging me about the 4th, I’ll open when everything is as safe as it can possibly be to do so.”
A mural painted by Lydia Thomas and Georgie Wheeler for The Royal Standard’s garden reopening this Saturday
At The Royal Standard in East Beach Street, which will open its outdoor areas this Saturday, people are encouraged to book their ‘social bubbles’ a table in advance on the front terrace or garden, where they’ll be able to order from a new breakfast menu, or enjoy an oven-baked pizza.
“We have a zero tolerance policy,” says landlord Chris Pearce, when asked about customers who may not follow social distancing rules.
“We’ve made it quite clear what you can do and what you can’t do and, if people don’t want to adhere to that, they won’t be welcome.”
“We’re positive about opening and we’re managing it to ensure it’s as safe as possible for everybody who works here and all the customers. We’re hoping that people enjoy the new relaxation of lockdown and being able to visit the pub even though they have to adhere to government guidelines.”
Business owners are legally required to carry out risk assessments of premises in consultation with staff. If the council’s Environmental Health department identifies a failure to comply with safety requirements they can be handed an enforcement notice. Serious breaches could result in hefty fines or up to two years in prison.
‘Dipping our toes in the water’
Vicki Duffey, owner of the Bullet Coffee House in Robertson Street, says she hopes customers will take responsibility for their own safety, despite the measures she has put in place in readiness for opening this Saturday.
“I’m quite worried about how it’s going to go,” says Vicki, whose café will open only at weekends for the time being, in conjunction with a separate takeaway service.
Vicki Duffey, Bullet Coffee House
“We’re all going to be dipping our toes in the water. Customers need to be understanding about new ways of doing things.
“It’s collective responsibility that seems to be missing from this whole process. Accountability is down to individual businesses. They put the onus on the owners and everyone’s a bit scared that there’s going to be an outbreak and don’t want to be held accountable for it.”
People are now allowed to meet in groups of up to six, from several different households, if outside, and from two households inside. But as Tim Dean, owner of Whistle Trago, who aims to be open this Saturday, points out: “You’ll just have to trust that people are being honest.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be more civilised. You can’t have a crowd just walking in, they will have to wait to be seated.
“It’s really hard to tell what it’s going to be like. It could become more like a café society, instead of how the English usually like to all pile in and drink twenty killer cowboys in ten minutes.”
But a member of staff from a different bar who wished to remain anonymous told HIP: “I’m horrified at being asked to go back to work in a room where people have gone there to drink and will not be wearing masks.
“As a bartender, by definition you’re handling people’s germs. You can’t clear glasses without getting covered in people’s saliva. It’s not about being squeamish, it’s the knowledge that it’s now potentially deadly.
“People don’t want to be read a load of rules when they’re drunk. They become confrontational, and when people raise their voices they spit all over you.
“I’m worried about how blasé people are going to be. No one’s social distancing in shops. If they can’t even behave themselves in Safeway in the daytime, how are they going to behave themselves in a pub?”
Tim Dean, Whistle Trago
In a poll conducted among the Hastings Area Music Scene Facebook group by BIDS Manager John Bownas, of the 193 respondents, 124 said they wouldn’t be going to the pub. Of the remainder, 44 said ‘yes’; 25 said ‘yes, but only if there is a band playing’.
Meanwhile Hastings Borough Council (HBC) leader Kim Forward has urged residents and visitors to the town to take care, adding: “Our town’s new full capacity is not yet what our pre-Covid-19 full capacity was. We will have to get used to things being done differently.”
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.