Back open for business . . . just as Preston's Covid rate peaks.

The irony of re-opening just as Preston’s Covid rate was peaking was not lost on businesses welcoming back the public for the first time in almost six months yesterday.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 9:17 am

But indoor play areas, bowling alleys and beauty parlours were just glad to be opening their doors again after an enforced closure which has pushed many to the brink of bankruptcy.

They are all back with rigorous changes in place to keep customers extra-safe. And for some it hasn’t come a moment too soon, with bills mounting and overdrafts stretched to the limit.

“Six months has been an awfully long time to wait,” said Elaine Cooke at Kinder Hub play, learning and development centre in Cottam.

Duty manager Mihaela Luchian at Red Rose Bowl in Preston.

“We’re just relieved to be able to open again - even though it’s only at half capacity.

“I can understand why the Government kept us closed for so long, but we’ve all taken a massive hit.”

Similar businesses in most parts of the country were allowed to open again more than three weeks ago on August 15.

But coronavirus hotspots like Preston, other parts of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, have had to remain closed because extra local restrictions are in place.

At Red Rose Bowl in Greenbank Street, Preston, staff have now returned from furlough and admit they are just glad to be back, despite major changes to the way they can now operate.

“It’s like starting all over again,” said duty manager Mihaela Luchian.

“The place has had a massive facelift while we’ve been closed and players will find things a bit different to how they were before.

“But it’s all about keeping people safe, that’s the priority.”

There are fewer bowling balls, no communal bowling shoes, disposable gloves and only half the number of lanes in play.

“We have 24 lanes, but we are only able to open 12, which is every alternate one,” explained Mihaela. “There will only be six balls per lane as well.

“Staff will be sanitising everywhere to ensure everyone stays safe. It is important players feel comfortable to return.

“We did consider waiting until the weekend to re-open because that is our busiest time. But after we thought about it we felt opening on the Tuesday would give us a chance to ease ourselves in gradually and make sure everything is going smoothly before the weekend.

“Even though we have been furloughed, staff like myself have been volunteering to come in and get the place smartened up, painting, cleaning and getting ready for re-opening.

“It’s been tough being closed all this time, but now it’s great to be able to open the doors again.”

At Kinder Hub staff have been doing a similar job getting the place cleaned and all the play equipment sanitised ready to welcome back the children and their parents.

The centre opened outdoors last Thursday and was able to open indoors yesterday for the first time since March.

“It is only half capacity for now,” said Elaine. “Normally we have about 30 children at a time, but we can only cater for 16 or 17 on separate tables.

“We’re not your usual play area, we do imaginative play, role play and dressing up. We normally have two-hour sessions and then we always clean everything before the next group. We’ve

been doing that since we opened a year ago.

“But now the sessions will be 15 minutes shorter to make sure we can do extra cleaning and santising.

“It has been very difficult for a new business like ours to manage during lockdown. We had only been open for a year and were just getting on our feet. Then, suddenly, we were forced to close for six months. It was a real shock.

“The grants and the furlough scheme have been a help - a lifeline to us. But it has still been a major setback for us.

“And let’s not forget the parents who have had nowhere to go with their children during the lockdown and no-one to interact with.

“It’s important for them and their wellbeing that places like this are back open again.”