Hospitality venues were today hoping to re-emerge from more than a year of disruption. Theatres, cinemas and bingo halls are also among those able to welcome people back again.
The optimism has been tainted by concerns about the rise of the Indian variant in the West Midlands. But with the protection of vaccines, it is hoped that any further restrictions can be avoided.
Traders opening up again today called for certainty as they prepare to welcome people back.
The Chindit Inn in Wolverhampton has opened for only five weeks since September. Landlord John Smith said: “All our stock was out of date and had to be thrown away and there was so much waste including crisps, nuts and snacks.”
Mr Smith said he felt a mixture of nervousness and relief, adding: “I don’t know what to expect in terms of how many people will turn up.
“A lot of my regulars have said they’re looking forward to it, being able to go inside a pub, rather than sitting outside, and seeing old friends.”
Bantock House spick and span
Edwardian Bantock House Museum has been dusted and polished, all ready to reopen from Tuesday.
The attraction, which sits in a popular park in Wolverhampton, will operate under summer opening hours, which are between Tuesday and Sunday, from 11am to 5pm.
Staff have been busy preparing for reopening, including making final touches such as cleaning up the interior of the museum, as seen above with visitor assistant Neil Pettey, pictured.
Richard Lawrence, director of regeneration at Wolverhampton Council, said: “I do hope residents will take this opportunity to indulge in art again, explore the collection and historical items we have on show and even take a stroll around the park.
“The house and grounds are an asset to the city and are set in a lovely location within Bantock Park. Visitors can find out more about the Bantock family and the manufacturing history of Wolverhampton.”
Social distancing measures have been put in place.
Customers keep family pizza firm going
Bosses at Veggie Supreme Pizza in Sedgley Street, Wolverhampton, said the whole team has been excited to get back to indoor dining.
Anup Kaur, who runs the restaurant with husband Harminder Singh, said it had been a difficult year.
She said: “Lockdown has been challenging for us as a hospitality business. So we are really excited to open and we’ve spent ages getting things ready.”
Anup, 48, and Harminder, 45, who have three children together, are also planning to extend the shop and create a permanent outdoor dining area to cater to those customers who still might prefer to eat outside.
Anup said: “Covid has given us a lot to think about – we’ve gained a new perspective.”
"Lockdown has had a huge impact on so many of us. There will be customers who will prefer to still eat outside.
"I think we've been very fortunate. We had to close for a few months during the first lockdown, and furlough our staff.
"Luckily our customers missed us and supported us. Without our customers we would have really struggled."
Canalside Cafe overjoyed to open inside
After 14 months of providing an outdoor take-away service The Canalside Cafe, at Canalside Farm in Great Haywood, was opening its doors to invite visitors inside to see a number of "exciting" changes.
The owners of the farm said they were looking forward to people returning and the farm "coming to life again" as restrictions start to ease.
Anna Barton, co-owner of the farm, said: "We are overjoyed that we can reopen our café again and look forward to welcoming customers back inside. Whilst we have been closed we have taken the opportunity to re-evaluate our food offering and have made some exciting changes that we hope people will love.
"We have improved the menu, with dishes such as homemade lasagne and salmon nicoise, and employed extra staff, so that we can now provide table service and a premium offer inside. We’ve also recruited an excellent new hospitality manager, who we are sure will only add to the top quality experience we already offer."
The cafe, over-looking the Trent and Mersey Canal, can seat up to 72 customers inside plus a further 100 people outside after a recent extension to their outdoor seating area.
Mrs Barton added: "We are delighted to see the whole farm coming to life again and people enjoying themselves. This month in particular has marked a huge change, with the café and plant centre reopening, plus our PYO [pick your own] strawberries will open at the end of the month. That only leaves our event programme to re-start in the summer and we will hopefully be back to normal again!"
Majestic ready to open the curtains
The Majestic Cinema in Bridgnorth, run by Reel Cinemas group, was today welcoming back customers to a varied schedule of films.
Manager James Frizzell cited the pandemic as the cinema's "biggest challenge" in its 84-year history and said the share of the government's Culture Recovery Fund earlier this year proved vital in ensuring the venue could reopen.
"We've been doing work on the building to make sure it's fit and proper for when people return," he said.
"There's been a brand new floor in screen one, work on the electrics and general maintenance and upkeep work throughout the building.
"The money from the government has been a great help in allowing us to make these vital changes."
The cinema, which sits in a 1930s Art Deco building on Whitburn Street, received about £115,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund, on top of a previous £10,000 survival grant last year.
Mr Frizzell, who begun his career as a projectionist at the cinema 14 years ago, said he hoped the business would be busier than previous reopenings throughout the pandemic.
He said: "I think people will be confident enough to come back this time, especially after everyone's had their jabs.
"I've always said once people see how safe we are there will be no worries and it's the same again.
"We really don't want to shut down again as it can't go on forever like this so let's hope this is the last time.
"We've just got to wait and see how it all goes but we've got a good selection of films and I think people just want to get back out – I think Peter Rabbit 2 will bring a few."
The cinema is also showing Spiral, Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong, among a selection of children's films.
Its counterpart in Kidderminster, which was also run by Reel Cinemas and formerly managed by Mr Frizzell, fell victim to the financial toll of lockdown and was permanently closed last year.
Milestone for Marston's
Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Wolverhampton-based pubs and restaurants group Marston’s, said today was a huge milestone for all hospitality businesses.
He said: “From today, being able to serve our guests indoors and for people to enjoy a drink and a meal in more comfort is a fantastic step forward and we know our guests want it.
“This next stage of reopening is vital for our industry and for a lot of businesses. Although many of our pubs have sheltered outdoor areas we have been delighted by the support we have from people keen to get back to the pub, despite the rain.
“Our pub managers and teams have shown admirable resilience during the last 12 months. But, now more than ever we are ready to fully reopen and safely welcome back guests.”