How the delay to 'Freedom Day' on June 21 is affecting Scarborough's businesses

It may have been suspected that the date of June 21 for the final easing of Covid-19 restrictions would be pushed back, but Boris Johnson's announcement confirming so last night has still come as a blow to several Scarborough businesses.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 4:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 4:56 pm

Whilst the busy beaches and queues for fish and chips seen in the town over the past few weeks may make it seem that life is getting back to normal, there are still plenty of business owners who can't operate as they would like to, if at all.

The final lifting of lockdown restrictions on June 21 was set to mean that nightclubs and music venues could reopen with no crowd limits, an end to limits on weddings and other life events, that pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas would be allowed to operate without capacity limits and sports events could happen in front of full stadiums again.

Last night, June 14 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson instead announced that the date for such actions was being pushed back by four weeks to July 19.

Clockwise from top left: Scholars bar, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Clark's Restaurant and Hackness Grange Hotel.
Clockwise from top left: Scholars bar, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Clark's Restaurant and Hackness Grange Hotel.

This will allow for a greater number of people to be vaccinated, and more a large proportion of the over 40s - most at risk of serious illness - to receive their second jab.

The delay is also to limit the impact of infection rates, which are now rising rapidly once again.

Restaurants

For chef and restauranteur Rob Clark, who owns Clark's restaurant on Queen Street, the ongoing capacity restrictions have almost halved the number of covers he can serve in one sitting from 30 to 16.

Hackness grange Hotel. Picture: JPI Media/ Dave Kettewell

He is now staging two sittings every night of the week in order to make the business viable which he said had put additional pressures on staff.

Rob was expecting the delay to full restrictions being lifted but still feels the hospitality industry has been unfairly targeted.

He said: "The concern [about the virus in restaurants] is not required, hospitality has been one of the most stringent industries for cleanliness.

"I feel that we've been victimised and penalised unfairly in a way."

Molly Coombs of Grand Get-together, Picture: JPI Media/ James Hardisty

However, he explained it is not all bad news as the restaurant is busier than it has been in the five years since it opened.

He said: "The restaurant is full every night. We're fully booked for the next two to three weeks.

"I'm quite positive it will last for a long time. People are having to be more flexible than before. It used to be if you didn't have a table at 7pm on a Saturday night they'd put the phone straight down but now they're more likely to come earlier or later."

​Group accommodation

Rob Clark inside his restaurant. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter

For Molly Coombs, from Grand Get-togethers, who have self contained group holiday lets and a wedding venue in Sherburn, the delay to restrictions being lifted has caused immediate issues.

Though weddings have been a focal point of the discussion around last night's announcement, she said the weddings they had booked in were likely not going to be affected.

However, the other side of her business - holiday lets for larger groups - was really suffering and the morning after the announcement she received nine cancellations.

The majority of her customers are celebrating big life events such as hen parties, weddings, milestone birthdays and wedding anniversaries,

She said: "A lot of people aren't aware how much [the pandemic] has affected the group hospitality market.

"Some of [the cancellations] have been rearranged three or four times already but they just want their money back now."

Danny Smith, left and Tony Snow, right. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter

Molly explained that the business had only received the same amount of financial support from government as smaller hospitality businesses, but they have been allowed to open since May 17, and says whilst the money has helped them keep their properties running, 'it hadn't touched the sides on refunds'.

"The refunds are astronomical," she said, "And a lot of our customers this year paid last year so we might not have an income this summer.

"We need people to holiday in the UK for a very long time."

Molly added that she found it frustrating to see other parts of the hospitality sector such as pubs and restaurants open and trading when she is unable to.

"I personally think people would be safer here in self-contained accommodation that has been cleaned to the highest standard than in a pub beer garden."

Weddings

At Hackness Grange Hotel, the news that restrictions on numbers at weddings would be lifted as planned on June 21 has not stopped them from worrying about cancellations.

Pam, a wedding consultant at the hotel, explained that in reality the only thing that had actually changed was the numbers.

She said: "[Guests] still can't have the wedding that they wanted, they're still not getting the party that they want.

"A lot of them have already postponed three, four, five times."

As weddings will still have to adhere to tables of six and social distancing there will effectively still be a limit on the amount of guests a couple can have, Pam explained.

The venue is fully booked for weddings until 2023. Those couples booked in the next few months do have a back up date as the hotel mitigated against more delays however Pam said if more extensions happen they will now struggle to keep rearranging.

"It's heart breaking for them," she added, "It's the unfairness that a lot of couples are finding hard - things are allowed in other places, such as a larger tables if they're from two households, that still can't happen here."

Pubs

Pubs have been allowed to operate with restrictions since April 12 but landlords were still hopeful by June 21 things would be getting back to normal.

Tony Snow, licensee at The Courtyard said his biggest issue working within the restrictions is staff costs as he needs more staff to offer table service.

Staffing expenses are up 50 per cent on what he would usually be spending.

He said: "We expected some kind of announcement, but I didn’t think it would be four weeks.

“We have one venue open at the moment, but we don’t have enough staff to open our other venue so we’re concentrating on that and because it’s table service obviously you need more staff to staff one place and a lot of places are in a similar situation where they can only open five days a week or half the time because they don’t have enough staff to open fully.

"The end of June and end of July are prime periods of the year for hospitality and it’s gone, it’s not coming back and that’s when you really need it.

"Luckily, people are spending a lot of money at the moment being stuck in England so it’s not too bad, but you’d rather be making from two places rather than one."

Danny Smith the landlord at Scholars bar on Somerset Terrace and chair of Scarborough Pub Watch also said he had notice people were spending more.

He said: “I think it’s a sensible announcement to be fair, I’m probably in the minority, but we need to stop any chance of another lockdown going ahead.

“I think it was inevitable that it was going to happen and I think it’s a sensible choice.”

In his role as pub watch chair Danny has said on the whole the public have been sticking to the government's rules.

He added: "[Pubs] are getting a few members of the public not respecting the rules, which at the end of the day aren’t our rules, we’re just enforcing them.

“We’re getting some hassle off of people, but we won’t accept it and won’t serve them if they don’t check in. As a pub watch group we’re united on that."

Theatres

The Stephen Joseph Theatre is a huge draw in Scarborough for both residents and tourists alike.

Since reopening they have been running reduced numbers for shows with 35 percent capacity in the McCarthy theatre and 50 per cent in the theatre in the round.

However unlike many other theatres in the country, the Stephen Joseph is able to viably continue with such capacity limits.

Paul Robinson, Joint Chief Executive at the SJT said: "The postponement of the end of lockdown shouldn’t have too much impact on us.

"When we were planning for 2021, we’d anticipated that it may not go ahead on June 21 as planned, so had no plans to lift the capacity limits in the near future - we’re currently selling all our 2021 shows with social distancing in place, with a view to adding seats in only as and when we’re able to do so.

“We’re obviously aware that we’re in a very fortunate position, and our thoughts are with our colleagues across the country who are going to find the current situation very challenging.”

Paul Robinson at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter