Maidenhead businesses prepare for 'freedom' week as COVID rules ease


Staff at Jenners Café in Maidenhead

Businesses in the Maidenhead area have clarified their positions on mask-wearing and social distancing as COVID rules ease across England from today (Monday).

In what has been dubbed 'Freedom Day', July 19 marks the date when almost all legal restrictions on social contact end, with places such as nightclubs, cinemas and theatres able to open to full capacity. 

Hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants will also no longer have to operate table-service only, while previous legislation on mask-wearing and keeping a social distance has ended, with people generally encouraged to wear face coverings in enclosed areas, rather than forced. 

Firms across Maidenhead have spoken to the Advertiser about their plans for 'freedom' week, which has raised debates over whether it is too soon to open up with case numbers rocketing, or if we should learn to live with the virus and steady the economic ship.

Mark Newcombe, chairman of the managing committee at the community-owned Craufurd Arms pub, in Gringer Hill, said he was looking forward to returning to a new normal, but did remain open to the fact that the 'pandemic is not over'.

Among the changes at the Craufurd, masks will not be worn by staff behind the bar but will be when beyond the bar area; bar service will resume, although there will be no stools at the bar and table service will continue for vulnerable people; and screens will be taken down to enable for better circulation of air. 

"As far as mask-wearing is concerned, we can't force our customers to wear a mask, that will be down to them," Mark said.

"The Government has shifted the onus on to businesses and individuals. It is impossible for us to enforce it because it is down to the individual now. The main thing is the safety and wellbeing of my staff."

He added: "It is going to be really nice for staff not to be saying to people: 'you can't do that, you can only do this', it's going to make the atmosphere a lot friendlier. I am looking forward to it.

"On the one hand, I am really happy that we have got to a position where we do not have these restrictions, but I am aware that the pandemic is not over. It's a bit of both, really. 

"Some people are keeping all the rules, whereas others are abandoning everything. No one has any idea as to which is the best policy.

"We will be doing what we do best, having music every Friday night and doing our charity work. All that work we can now get back to in a happy and safe manner."

The term 'pingdemic' has been coined in the national press of late to describe an increase in people being told to isolate by the NHS Track and Trace app, forcing some firms to cope with staff shortages. 

Mark feared that if the Craufurd's pub manager was to be 'pinged', he and his team would be forced to 'close the pub' for a time, and feared that the industry could suffer because of this. 

The Government announced earlier this month that obligatory self-isolation for contacts of positive COVID cases will end for people who have had both doses of a vaccine on August 16.

But Mark thinks that this should have been in place now to coincide with the full reopening of hospitality businesses, with pub giant Greene King the latest to be affected by the 'pingdemic'.

Over in Maidenhead high street, cafe owner Flavio Pantaleao (below), who owns Flavios, thinks that it is too soon to be doing away with the legal rules on masks and social distancing.

"We will keep going with the masks," he told the Advertiser. "We do not ask customers to put masks on, but me and my staff will keep wearing them. And we'll have screens between the tables.

"But I do not think this is a good decision. People can't wait to have freedom, but with cases going up, so many every day, I think we're going to keep going like that."

But Alan Murray, owner of clothes shop Peakes Menswear, thinks it is time we 'live with' the virus and allow the economy to open back up.

He added that in his store, in High Street, staff will still be wearing masks, but this is not a rule for customers, although he did expect the majority of people visiting the store to still wear one.

"If they want to wear a mask, fine. If they don't, fine," he said. "We have to learn to live with this now. I do not think it is going to go away, and we can't afford another lockdown.

"And if we are going to open up, lets do it now when we are in the summer months. If there is an issue with more cases and deaths, we can then maybe go back to some of the restrictions we have had."

Shirley Webb works for Jenner’s Cafe, in Ray Mead Road. She said that an average of nine out of 10 customers were wearing masks since the rules eased.

Shirley added that the cafe has been ‘rammed’ with the hot weather.

“We can’t make people do something [wear masks] if they do not have to,” she said. “But most people are wearing them. We are keeping it [the cafe] virtually the same but mask wearing is up to the individual.

“The Government have given us 18 months of holding our hands and now it is time for us to do our bit.”

The Nicholsons Centre is also advising people to respect others who wish to still wear a face mask in the town centre mall, although operations manager Howard Lyndsay said that it would not be able to enforce mask-wearing.

Individual retailers may have their own rules, he added, but there is no legislation to back these.

Elsewhere, cinema chain ODEON said it will be ‘relaxing’ its social distancing measures, but will still be completing ‘enhanced cleaning and sanitisation processes’.

Advertiser readers have had their say on Facebook regarding the new rules.

Dave Toynton said: “I'll do what the rules say. [I] quite enjoyed the psychological freedom of not wearing a mask in a supermarket today.

“I later entered a takeaway where their sign clearly stated a mask must still be worn – had no argument with putting it on.”

Ruth Kinns added she would be wearing a mask and social distancing because ‘positive cases are rising’.

Will you be wearing a mask and social distancing from this week? Let us know in the comments. 

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