City centre crowds bigger than before Covid as Preston bounces back from lockdown

Bounce Back Monday saw a whopping 300 per cent rise in people visiting Preston city centre, business chiefs have revealed.

Wednesday, 14th April 2021, 8:20 am

The first day of freedom after a 14-week lockdown brought crowds flocking back to the shops, bars and hairdressing salons as some sense of normality returned at long last.

Figures revealed by Preston BID (Business Improvement District) show footfall for Monday was four times more than it was on Monday last week when only essential shops were open.

The numbers were 1,000 per cent up on the same Monday back in April 2020 - at the height of the first national lockdown.

Crowds in the city centre on Monday were greater than before Covid.

And even more significantly the overall numbers showed a 12.9 per cent rise on a similar Monday in 2019, before the Covid crisis erupted.

“We were in the city centre across the day it was such a good feeling to see shops unlocking their doors and team members arriving for work; it’s been a long time coming,” said BID manager Mark Whittle.

“This re-emergence from lockdown restrictions felt buoyant, yet seemed more relaxed than that of 2020.

“It was clear that the vast majority of people were glad to be back and enjoying the city centre offer responsibly.”

Thousands took advantage of the sunny weather to get out.

Mr Whittle added: “We’re incredibly grateful that Prestonians came home to their high street and showed their support.

“Responsibly pushing forward together, we hope that we can continue to see cases in Preston fall and trade increase.”

Across the country experts estimate this first week back after Lockdown III will create a £700m boost to the economy.

While footfall across England on Monday increased by 146 per cent on a week ago - with high streets up 174 per cent and shopping centres up 217 per cent - the overall effect was still 16 per cent lower than 2019, making Preston’s turnout even more impressive.

Shoppers thankful for a taste of normality after 14 weeks of lockdown.

Pubs nationally reported spending was up 150 per cent even before lunchtime compared with a normal pre-lockdown Monday.

Hundreds of Lancashire pubs and bars lucky enough to have outdoor seating spaces did a roaring trade on the first day back.

But it is estimated at least half of licensed premises across the county were unable to open due to space issues - and even some of those who could trade decided to stay shut because they felt it was financially unviable.

Seating areas outside bars in Penwortham were said to be “very busy,” yet down the road in Longton it was comparatively quiet as most of the village pubs remained closed.

It was the same mix in Preston city centre with some bars having the luxury of outdoor spaces and others not able to operate.

At the Market Tavern, opposite the city’s indoor market hall, landlord Gavin Corless reported a “brilliant” day.

He started serving at 10 am and trade remained brisk right through to the late evening.

“The sunny weather helped, obviously,” he said. “We stayed busy all day right through to about nine o’clock when it started to get a bit cold. Overall it was a brilliant day.”

Trade was brisk again yesterday, although Gavin admitted: “They weren’t knocking my door down at 10 to 10 like the previous day.

“The weather wasn’t as good yesterday as it was on Monday, but they’re a hardy lot, Preston folk. It started to rain at one point, but they were still out there having a drink.

“It reminded me of last Christmas when they came out in hail and wind and were happy to be outside with plastic glasses.

“I’m just hoping the weather stays fine for these five weeks before we are allowed to let people inside the pub.”

Andrew Stringer, manager of the city’s St George’s Shopping Centre Centre, said: “It was fantastic to welcome back both shoppers and non-essential retailers to St George’s.

“With the safety guidelines in place the atmosphere was great and pleasing to see lots of happy shoppers with their long awaited purchases. Retailers are reporting positive sales once again.”

Peter Jackson the jewellers in St George’s Centre tweeted: “Thank you to everyone who has sent us good wishes for our re-opening and particularly to those who called in to our shops yesterday to support us. Please keep supporting independent retailers.”

Winckley Street Ale house said on social media: :”Thank you so much to everyone who came to see us yesterday!

“We had a great time and can’t wait for more of the madness today.”

Analysts believe spending could be back to pre-pandemic levels within as little as two months following the great escape from lockdown.

The frenzy is being created by pent-up frustration at not being able to shop for the best part of four months.

In Liverpool, Monday’s bounce back saw an estimated 200,000 people visit the city centre, compared with 135,000 at the end of the first lockdown in July.

In London shoppers spent at least £100m on the first day, not to mention many more millions on food and drink as bars and restaurants opened outdoors.

This week alone is expected to bring a much-needed £700m boost to the economy in England.