Businesses 'elated' by easing of rules but warn of tough times ahead

Bowling alleys, casinos, beauty salons, skating rinks and soft play centres can welcome back customers from this weekend

Bowling alley and soft play centre owners breathed a sigh of relief after being told they can reopen from Saturday - but warned that business will remain tough as long as the country is forced to follow social distancing rules.

Leisure and hospitality bosses welcomed a surprise announcement from Boris Johnson that allows bowling alleys, casinos, beauty salons, skating rinks and soft play centres to welcome back customers this weekend.

The easing of restrictions will also allow wedding receptions of up to 30 people to take place, as well as live indoor performances at theatres and music venues

The leisure industries were dealt a crushing blow after Mr Johnson U-turned on plans to ease lockdown restrictions in July, just 24 hours before they were due to reopen.

Stephen Burns, chief executive of Hollywood Bowl Group, said: “It’s a great relief to finally have clarity on when we can reopen after such unexpected and long delays. 

“We’ve been ready to reopen in the fully government approved Covid-secure way for many weeks and our trained teams are eager to get back to work.”

Barry Coombs, who runs Baloo’s Softplay in Trowbridge, Wiltshire with his wife Lucy, said he was elated by the announcement. However, the late notice means he will be unable to reopen on Saturday.

Mr Coombs said: “As with the rest of the industry, we thought we may have been given two weeks’ notice.

“Unfortunately we're not going to be able to get things turned around that quickly, we need to get the staff back off furlough, get some retraining and do some risk assessments.”

Mr Coombs added that continued social distancing restrictions mean the site will only be able to operate at 40pc of its normal capacity.

Softplay centres will be required to limit capacity to 100sq ft per person, according to government guidance, while ball pits will remain shut.

Some leisure and hospitality businesses such as nightclubs still remain shut by state decree. Bosses are frustrated by a lack of clarity over when they will be able to restart operations, and are urging ministers to provide a clear plan for the return to normal.

Peter Marks, chief executive of nightclub operator Deltic Group, said: "We need a pathway [to reopening] and we need financial support, desperately."

Beauty salons, which were allowed to reopen for some services last month, will be able resume close contact treatments such as eyebrow waxing and threading and facials from Saturday. Many firms reported a surge in bookings as a result, with some running up waiting lists that will last until September.

However, the more relaxed rules will not apply to businesses operating in areas where a local lockdown has been enforced to contain spiking infections.

Lisa Ryan, who owns Escape Spa in locked-down Manchester,warned that her business will struggle to continue operating unless it can offer close contact services that are in high demand.

She said: “Everybody wants to get their eyebrows done at the moment.

“We’ve been able to open at a small capacity, nothing compared to the way it was. I’m lucky if I’m working a day and a half at the moment, whereas before I was working seven days a week. 

“I’m very afraid. We’ve been open five years and gone from strength to strength but this has just messed everything up and we’ll have to start from scratch again.”