OWNERS of pubs and restaurants say they are geared up and ready to safely welcome customers back indoors from the start of next week.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes, along with other hospitality businesses, such as bed and breakfasts and hostels, can reopen from May 17 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced England was ready to move to stage three in the Government’s roadmap to recovery out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pub goers will no longer have to sit outside in the rain as indoor dining returns along with the reopening of theatres and cinemas.

People will also be allowed to meet up indoors and give each other a hug, and secondary schoolchildren and college students will no longer have to wear face masks in classrooms, although there will still be regular testing.

There will also be a return to face to face teaching for university students who have spent the last year receiving online lectures.

Reopening indoor hospitality is a sign that normality - while not returning fully - is hopefully on its way back.

In the meantime, keeping staff and customers safe is a top priority for Craven’s hospitality businesses. Staff will continue to wear face masks and visors, and customers will be asked to do the same when not seated. Hand sanitiser will be readily available, with tables spaced out, and table service only.

Indoors, the Government has indicated that the ‘rule of six’ or two households will apply, although this will be kept under review.

Calvin Dow, who has been running The Castle Inn in Skipton for 10 years, said it had been good to see customers back in the beer garden, but not when it kept on raining.

“I honestly can’t wait. It’s been brilliant having people back in the beer garden, but it’s also quite stressful as we’re really dependent on the weather. A bit of sunshine and every table is full, but then a sudden downpour and everyone disappears. They can’t just nip inside like they used to, so it’s a tough thing to balance - particularly with things like ordering stock.”

Over in Settle, Kay Backhouse, who set up Sydney’s Restaurant in the Market Place with husband, Rick, in 2019, said: “The feeling of just seeing people being back out, meeting up and reconnecting - is just fantastic. Everyone has been affected by lockdown, and it has definitely affected the mental health of many.

“People need to be around people – that’s just how we work – so it’s really important to have places to meet, chat, and enjoy good food and drink.”

Sydney’s is named after Kay’s brother, Syd Wilson, who died in 2019 from a rare form of cancer. It had been his and Kay’s idea to set up a restaurant together in Settle, where they both grew up.Although Syd never got to see the restaurant, Kay believes he would be proud, and he was the inspiration which kept her going when things were looking tough through lockdown.

“We’d been open for about eight months before lockdown and it was going really well,” said Kay, “But we always knew it was going to take about two years to make any sort of profit from the business.

“So for us to shut down completely less than a year after opening was pretty horrific and scary. There were times we honestly didn’t think we’d survive, and it was always in the back of our minds that we might go bankrupt.

“But I knew that my brother would have wanted us to go on, so although it feels like we’re almost starting again, and from a worse position than before, we know we can make it work.”

Andy Fairhurst has been running the Black Bull Hotel in Bentham with his wife Carol since 2017.

He said: “When we took over the pub it was rather run down, but we’ve worked really hard to build it up and more than that, make it a real part of the community, because that’s very important to us.

“And we are proud of being part of this community - all the other pubs in the town work together and have helped each other out. We’ve worked with the golf club, we have a darts team and pool team, and a different set of regulars who come in at lunch, tea and evenings.”

He said they had tried to support others during the lockdown, but it had been tough.

“For the first three years, we invested everything back into the pub and 2020 was the year we were supposed to start making it profitable. That was just beginning to happen, so we’ve definitely been set back.

“I cannot knock the support we received from Craven District Council – they’ve been incredible. Very efficient. But even with the government funding, it’s not really covered everything.

“And we know it’s not just us, it’s impacted our suppliers too. We try to use local ones wherever possible, particularly for food, so it all has a knock-on effect."

Now, he hoped people would start coming back again and everyone could start getting back to some sort of normality.

“We’ve also given the place a bit of a refresh, which we hope our customers will appreciate.”

As well as supporting businesses with grants, Craven District Council has been working with shops and hospitality businesses to help stop the spread of Covid.

As part of its strategy, the council launched its Reopening High Streets Safely campaign, which has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund, to urge shoppers to come back and support their local businesses, while also doing their bit to stop the spread of Covid.

Signage, social distancing measures and sanitising stations have been installed in the High Streets in Bentham, Settle, Ingleton, Cross Hills, Grassington and Skipton, to ensure people feel safe moving around the shopping areas, as well as inside venues.

Councillor Richard Foster, Leader of Craven District Council, said: “Craven businesses have been working incredibly hard to ensure that customers can return safely when they are allowed to do so.

“I’d like to thank everyone, businesses and residents, for all their efforts which have brought us to this point on the road to recovery.

“Many people will be keen to get back into our pubs, restaurants, cafés and hotels, and I would urge everyone to behave sensibly so that we can get back to a life that is as normal as possible. Please continue to be cautious and considerate – remember ‘hands, face, space, and fresh air’. And please do get vaccinated when you are given the opportunity, and make sure you get both doses.”