Despite strict new distancing measures there plenty of smiles as pub staff returned to work serving drinks to customers once again.
And although there had been fears of chaotic scenes West Midlands Police and Staffordshire Police chiefs have been mostly pleased with how the opening weekend has gone with only a handful of arrests being made.
Customers at The Fox at Shipley pub, on Bridgnorth Road, were pleased to be back out and about and talking to other people – all with a pint. Business partners Kerry Brummell and Neil Taylor said they saw a steady flow of business on Saturday.
Kerry, 52, said: “Athough we have been here for 14 years, it is like the start of a new job – into the unknown.
“It was very strange to reopen – we were all very apprehensive on the morning but it went very, very well. Customers have been really happy and the staff have too.” Neil, who celebrated his 50th birthday during the pandemic, said it was “fantastic” to be back in business – especially since he had fought coronavirus first-hand.
He was admitted to New Cross Hospital on March 25 after suffering from a fever over the previous weekend when the pub closed.
Mr Taylor said he was at “death’s door” over that weekend but managed to turn it around – with no need for intensive care or a ventilator – and was discharged the following Tuesday.
He said: “It changes your perspective on life – you get stressed about business, but it’s about being stressed about something you have control over. But we’ve had no control over this.
"But we knew the lockdown was coming. We thought it was going to happen when you saw other businesses close as the virus was starting to take hold.
“We’ve luckily had enough time but we were waiting for the guidelines to come through – but at the end of the day it’s common sense and respect from both sides, from the customers to staff and each other really.”
And they praised Marston’s for the “unbelievable” support they had received in order to get them back on their feet. (they wanted this in - don’t remove please)
Pete Taylor, the pub’s general manager, said: “It is nice to see people back out and about and coming into the pub. It has been a difficult few months, but even in lockdown work was continuing to take place – it needed to be all clean and tidy. And now we are back and we are overjoyed.”
Kular Deol, who lives near the pub, said: “It is nice to be here – I think we needed some sort of business opening back up during all of this and this has been really good.”
Richard Lane, who was out drinking with friend Stephen Holmes at the pub, said it was fantastic to be able to visit. Mr Holmes, from Brocton, said: “It’s been fantastic really to get back. We used to do a pub crawl and we used to end up here.”
“Bev was really an amazing man – it’s been the hardest part of this. We’ve not been able to keep in touch with him and he was like our right arm.”
Others at the Oddfellows pub in Compton expressed their joy at being back in the pub environment – despite initially having concerns about how busy it would be.
General manager Paul Beckett said: “It’s been really positive. There’s been a steady flow of people which has been very nice – and it’s given us the opportunity for the staff to get used to it.
“A lot of people who have come in are regulars so we’re really grateful for their support. We’re definitely happy to reopen and hopefully we start to get back into a normal routine.
“We saw the lockdown coming, kind of, because we saw other businesses close and you kind of see it. But we knew we had to in order to keep customers safe.
“We’ve controlled the number of customers with the booking system and there’s been no pressure at all from the brewery – the priority is to get open and to keep safe.”
Husband and wife Ray and Chris Evans, who live nearby, were among those to visit their local for a drink.
Ray, 63, said: “I would describe it as freedom because it really is – they shouldn’t have shut the pub down. It would’ve kept all of us sane but I can understand why they did.
“But I was a right mess coming in. All my life I’ve been to work and then gone to the pub and it takes something away from you when you can’t do that.” Chris, aged 72, added: “We’ve not been about for months or more and it’s lovely to be out again. We miss people so much – it’s great to see people again.
“I thought it would be worse than it was. We were looking to go out and we weren’t sure because we’ve been locked down for weeks and weeks.
“But everyone has been really welcoming and they’re like ‘it’s great to see you’ and we feel the same. It’s not been chaos and it’s been really good.”
Paul Gittos visited the pub with Stuart Turner and Lance Pritchard – and the three said it was good to get back to normal.
Paul said: “Some things have changed now – you can’t really see the barmaids’ faces but it feels a bit more normal. It’s nice to be out and about. We’ve all been working all the way through this so it’s annoying they closed really, but it’s more of a social thing. I was expecting a queue but it’s been quiet so far, it’s been surprising.”
Pat Cross and Sheila Cross, who live near to the pub, said it was great to be out and about and chatting to people – with Pat treating himself to some “messy” nachos.
Pat, in his 60s, said: “It’s marvellous, really good so far. I’m not here for a beer – we have that at home – I’m here for the social aspect.
“It’s wonderful to be back in a world with living people.”
Sheila, also in her 60s, added: “Everyone seems to be really happy, really glad and we’ve been here talking to people who we don’t know.
“It’s great and everyone is really friendly – especially as you walked in.”
And Nigel and Jen Clayton travelled from Ellesmere in Shropshire on their narrowboat to visit the pub.
Jen, 68, said: “We’re meeting friends here and we come here often – it’s a nice little spot. We’ve missed boating, we’ve been seeing some friends on Zoom, but to actually be somewhere with people is brilliant.
“And bearing in mind while we wait for friends we’ve been chatting to people, engaging in conversation, it’s like ‘wow’ – it’s really great.” Customers also flocked to The Wall Heath Tavern in Dudley eager for their pint. Tom Evans, owner and general manager of the pub, said: “It was exciting for us, it was nice to be open and serving beers than losing money. It was a good day all round.
“It was really positive – I think it was a good thing to do, I think it was needed, it boosted people’s mentality.”
In Birmingham city centre, builders queued to get their first draught pint at the Briar Rose Wetherspoons on Bennetts Hill. Ben Clark, 33, a builder from Newcastle, was first in line in the socially-distanced queue after finishing a night shift.
Senior offices at West Midlands Police said that while it was a very busy night for 999 calls, very few were in relation to trouble at drinking establishments across the region.
Three arrests were made after disorder at a pub in the Sandwell area and one person was arrested to prevent a breach of the peace in Birmingham, Chief Superintendent Steve Graham said.
Mr Graham said that domestic violence had increased over the weekend.
However he said: “We were impressed with the compliance of the majority of people who came out to enjoy the eagerly awaited reopening of pubs and bars within our vibrant cities and towns, thank you to everyone who played their part in keeping us all safe.
“It was a busy evening, with lots of people deciding to host house or street parties or visit their locals pubs instead of heading into those in our larger cities and towns. Sadly, some of these resulted in police being called following complaints about drunken behaviour, noise nuisance and fighting.”
Staffordshire Police received 449 calls to 999 between 7pm and 4am - double the number recorded on an average Saturday night in July 2019 and just fewer than the 488 recorded on New Year’s Eve.
And two teenagers have been arrested after one of the force’s special constables was left with a fractured cheekbone after being attacked in Market Place, Uttoxeter.
The force’s Chief Constable Gareth Morgan added: “The crisis isn’t yet over - Coronavirus remains a serious risk and people need to continue to be sensible and follow Government guides which include social distancing and increased hygiene measures.”
Meanwhile the chairman of the Police Federation John Apter has expressed concerns.
Mr Apter, who was on shift in Southampton where he dealt with “naked men, happy drunks, angry drunks, fights and more angry drunks”, said: “What was crystal clear is that drunk people can’t/won’t socially distance.” However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the vast majority of people who went out on ‘Super Saturday’ were “doing the right thing” and following social distancing.