My post-lockdown first night dining experience

My post-lockdown first night dining experience

FIFTEEN weeks after being plunged into lockdown, one of the biggest freedoms we’ve been denied was this weekend re-gifted to us – and I wasted no time in taking advantage.

Whilst good food and drink have not been in short supply over recent months (my waistline will sadly vouch for that!), it’s the social setting and convivial atmosphere of the pub and restaurant experience that I’ve missed most.

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining

So, upon receiving an email invitation to book a table at one of my favourite local hostelries, there was no hesitation.

It was only on the lead up to our visit on Saturday night however, I started to question my (usually very sound) judgement. Social media – and headlines – were piling on the pressure to ‘stay at home.’ We were constantly reminded of ‘second spikes’ and ‘local lockdowns’ were very much in the news.

Was I being irresponsible in taking the family to step out into this brave – and as yet untested – new world? Should I, like most in my social circles, steer clear for a while longer to observe how things ‘pan out?’

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to cancel on more than one occasion last week. The overthinking mum and the logical fact-driven journalist were at odds.

But the favourably low local COVID statistics added much-needed perspective.

And as a PR professional who works with many small local businesses, I also felt compelled to lend them my support.

I had witnessed first-hand their struggles for survival throughout lockdown and had long told myself that the moment I could do my bit to help get their tills ringing again, I would.

And after all, I reasoned, my family were due some celebrations in lieu of three birthdays, a significant wedding anniversary, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and other assorted milestones. So, suitably reconciled, off we headed to The Globe in Warwick.

The restaurant, in Theatre Street, was very much in the spotlight for its ‘first night’ audience.

On researching their COVID-Security measures, I was satisfied this chic gastropub, part of the Oakman Inns stable, had customers’ safety at heart. These included restricted numbers, discrete screens between some tables, disposable menus, cutlery brought to the table, signs to keep traffic flowing one way, an abundance of hand sanitiser and the option of at-table ordering via an app.

Would this infringe on the restaurant dining experience I’d so sorely missed? Would first impressions of the ‘new normal’ have us rushing back for a repeat performance or re-joining the more cautious supporters of stay at home? After all, a meal for four at your average south Warwickshire gastropub comes at a not-insignificant price. Would it still be a price we were willing to pay?

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining
Discrete screens have been added to booth seating

I am delighted – and relieved – to report that, for us at least, the answer is yes. The overall dining experience was not that dissimilar to that of pre-lockdown. Considering this was reopening night, the team at The Globe handled their new regime with reassuring confidence and calm. Their genuine delight at being back on the front line of hospitality was clear to see. The servers we spoke to have missed the buzz of their restaurants as much as we have.

I was surprised to find a lack of face masks however. Whilst only optional for serving staff, it struck me that this may have offered an increased level of reassurance among more nervous diners, especially when they leaned over to collect plates and glasses from the table.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our long-anticipated family meal out and am pleased I didn’t talk myself into succumbing to that last-minute cancellation. In fact, buoyed on by this, we are heading out again next weekend, this time to Tasca Dali in High Street.

I am particularly pleased to support Tasca which has been much missed in the town. But it was a close call for this award-winning – but famously compact – Spanish restaurant which narrowly avoided hanging up the closed sign for good thanks to a recent change in the 2m distancing rule.

The restaurant can now accommodate double the number of diners than planned – although full capacity will still see a third fewer customers catered for on their busiest nights. There are still struggles ahead.

Whichever pub, restaurant or café you’re most looking forward to again frequenting, for that peace of mind it’s worth first checking up on their safety measures.

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining
Signs and sanitiser are going to become familiar sights.

Make sure they are accredited as COVID-Secure and plan ahead such as downloading their apps. And don’t be shy to contact them with questions in advance of your booking. Businesses will be sympathetic to your nervousness to return through their doors and will work with you to offer as much reassurance as possible.

Many also offer outdoor dining which – on the finer days – can be a great compromise for those not ready to yet take the leap across their thresholds.

We are so lucky in south Warwickshire, to be surrounded by a fine choice of eateries and drinking holes and I, for one, am looking forward to reacquainting myself with most of them over the coming weeks and months.

Whilst I am clearly no scientist – and there is no such thing as zero risk – I am reassured that, if you choose wisely and follow the measures and advice in place, it is possible to once again enjoy our favourite restaurants and pubs safely, whilst also doing our bit to reignite the local economy.

Now I’ll definitely drink to that!

The Globe: www.theglobewarwick.co.uk

Tasca Dali: www.tascadali.com

Making memories is at the heart of new business

Making memories is at the heart of new business

LOSS, personal health struggles and a global pandemic proved the perfect storm for Warwick woman Julie Brown but who has now turned her life around with the launch of a new business.

The fifty-year-old mum, who battles multiple sclerosis, recently established SEW Unique Crafts which specialises in making memory bears and cushions from recycled clothing – an idea inspired by her daughter who is about to leave primary school.

She made 11-year-old Harriet a special bear from her Kingsley Preparatory School uniform after seeing her upset about missing out on much of her final year there.

SEW Unique Crafts, Julie Brown, recycled clothes, memory bears, memory cushions, COVID-19
Julie and her daughter Harriet with some of the Kingsley School bears.

Julie, from Hatton Park, said: “I had 12 weeks at home during lockdown apart from walking the dogs once a day, so I started doing a lot of sewing and I had heard about these items made from recycled clothes and thought it would be a nice thing to make for Harriet for when she finishes primary school.

“People love this idea and I have now got orders coming in from parents asking me to make some for them.”

While it started off as a hobby, Julie’s love of sewing has since become a lifeline for the self-taught entrepreneur who sank into a deep depression following the death of her beloved horse in 2018.

She said: “My partner Neil and I used to ride him at the trekking centre at Cannock Chase and it came to a point where he became available to buy.

SEW Unique Crafts, Julie Brown, recycled clothes, memory bears, memory cushions, COVID-19
Julie and her late horse Caesar

“Caesar was a huge part of my life for nearly 20 years. I’d be with him every day. He was my best friend and companion. He was always there. Then suddenly when he died, I had this big void in my life. It affected me so much. I just kept crying all the time.

“The doctor said she thought I was suffering with a reactive type of depression brought on by grief and I was off work for 6-7 weeks and had counselling.”

She added: “Just after I lost Caesar, I needed to find something to give me a focus. I would see these little felted ornaments in the shops and thought I could have a go at doing that. Then my friends started saying, you’re really good at making these so why don’t you start selling them? So I put a small advert out and lots of people wanted to buy them. I never looked back!”

Spurred on by this interest, Julie attended a three-day residential course for needle felting and used online tutorials and magazines to perfect her crafting skills, before, in February last year, launching her own workshops. She hopes these will be able to recommence early next year.

She said: “I always start my workshops with a little story about me and what led me here, which people find fascinating.”

SEW Unique Crafts also helped fill a void for the part-time administrator who was forced to take time out from her job at Budbrooke Medical Centre. She has had to take a cautious approach throughout lockdown due to having multiple sclerosis, a condition she was diagnosed with after Harriet was born.

“I remember the first signs were when I was breastfeeding Harriet in the night and seeing double vision, but just put it down to tiredness. But after it had gone on for about three months, I went to see the doctor and he sent me to a neurologist. After having an MRI and lumbar puncture it was confirmed I had MS,” she said.

Medication helps to keep some of the symptoms under control although Julie does suffer with bouts of extreme tiredness and pins and needles as well as confused speech and memory lapses.

Despite everything she’s had to overcome, the enterprising crafter is excited for the new chapter ahead.

SEW Unique Crafts, Julie Brown, recycled clothes, memory bears, memory cushions, COVID-19
Some of the felted animals Julie has made

Julie said: “I can make a sentimental bear, cushion or quilt or quilted hanger, out of recycled clothing for all sorts of reasons, including as a memory of someone who has passed away – or make something out of old baby clothes that don’t fit any more but which they want to keep. Quilted squares or quilted hangers. They can also be personalised with names.”

 

She added: “I’m absolutely convinced that me focusing on something like crafting really helped me get better. I just genuinely feel that doing something where you have to concentrate really helps if you’re going through some sort of depression. I think it got to the point at the end of my counselling where I needed to do more. Now I’m a big believer that crafting helps your mental health.

“A very negative point in my life became a very positive point in my life. And now it’s something I really enjoy.”

Contact Julie at: SEWuniquecrafts@mail.com

Visit: www.facebook.com/SEWuniquecraftsbyJulie

Sweet sixteen enjoys first taste of business success

Sweet sixteen enjoys first taste of business success

A LEAMINGTON teenager whose school days were cut short by the pandemic, has turned entrepreneur in a bid to beat lockdown.

Like many others, sixteen-year-old Isobel Massey is waiting on the results of GCSEs she wasn’t able to take after exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The student, who is planning to return to North Leamington School to study A-levels in September, has been far from idle, setting up her own business – and is already enjoying the sweet taste of success.

Isobel Massey, Sweetiz

Isobel established and runs all aspects of her Sweetiz – a door to door confectionery delivery service – including social media, branding and marketing plus – with some help from her dad on the deliveries side!

She said: “When I found out that I wouldn’t be doing my exams, at first I was so disappointed as I had revised heavily and improved so much from where I was at the start of the year, but this has given me a new focus.

“I suddenly found myself with so much time on my hands and was spending far too much money on sweets and junk food and decided to start a service selling sweets at a reasonable price straight to your door.”

On June 17th Sweetiz was born. It currently offers two products – a 750g box for £7.50 and a smaller 250g cone for £3, each containing a fun variety of sweetie treats.

“Currently in the box you get a variety of sweets but as I have only just started there isn’t currently a choice, but I have had quite a few enquiries asking about different options which in the future I will be looking into, and possibly making multiple choices of boxes or giving customers the option of what goes in their box,” she added.

“I have so far sold more than 25 boxes and cones as it is only early days but I am looking forward to in the future receiving more orders.”

And her ambitions to grow this fledgling enterprise extend beyond the boundaries of friends and neighbours.

“Ultimately I want to have a wide choice of products available for people to buy and for my very small business to become successful, enabling me to possibly deliver all over the UK,” she said.

It’s good groundwork for the next stage of her academic career as she prepares to study A-levels in Business and Media as well as Psychology.

Mum Karen said: “I couldn’t be any more proud of Isobel. As with all teenagers that were going to be doing their GCSEs this year, she was left feeling despondent and has been looking for something that would stand her in good stead to return for her A-levels in September.

“She has always been motivated to push herself forward and, as her parents, we are looking forward to seeing where this will take her.”

Visit: facebook/Instagram @sweetizforyou

A ‘surge in staycationers’ will save our summer

A ‘surge in staycationers’ will save our summer

THE owners of a boutique glamping retreat in Warwickshire say they hope a ‘surge in ‘staycationers’ will help them bounce back from a three-month lockdown that is forecast to have cost the business more than £100k.

Jo Carroll and Steve Taylor are now ready to welcome back guests after taking comprehensive steps to make their holiday homes COVID-Secure.

Winchcombe Farm, COVID-19

Winchcombe Farm Holidays in Tysoe, is preparing to throw open the doors to its luxury lodges as they emerge from a damaging three-month lockdown following today’s Government announcement allowing holiday accommodation in England to reopen on July 4th.

Situated in the picturesque Cotswold village of Upper Tysoe, it is one of thousands of small independent holiday home companies to have welcomed the green light for trading again.

Jo and Steve say they hope show staycationers will help them bounce back in business, although think the current quarantine rules will greatly affect the amount of foreign tourists they normally see flocking to the area.

The enterprising couple, who established their glamping business just over two years ago on the foundations of their former privately-run nursery, currently have three lodges and a tree house for guests on their farm. Work on opening a fifth lodge this year, called Ben’s Burrow, had to be shelved as they were relying on income from this year’s main season to complete the build.

Willl’s Treehouse

Steve said: “It goes without saying the last few months have been catastrophic for the tourism and hospitality sector as a whole. We’ve had to delay our expansion plans and have spent the last few months just fighting as hard as we could to stand still.”

The entrepreneurs received emergency support from the Government’s Hospitality Grant Scheme – which covered all their basic utility bills – plus free business rates for this year, but fell into the 10% of workers who didn’t qualify for any personal financial help.

Steve said: “The business was set up as a partnership and we were self-employed. As all the profits we made are poured straight back into the company, we couldn’t claim a Self -Employed Grant. Neither could we furlough ourselves as we aren’t PAYE”.

Winchcombe is opening to a busy calendar of bookings and re-bookings for the summer months but fear that concerns around a possible second wave of the virus is deterring longer term enquiries.

Jo said: “We would normally have a bursting diary for the autumn months too, along with a waiting list for cancellations; however, we’re just not seeing that this year.

Certification from Visit England’s ‘Go to Good’ Scheme and the AA’s COVID Certification Scheme – both aimed at building consumer confidence in travel – should offer reassurance.

Jo added: “The housekeeping regime between guest stays is rigorous but essential in the current climate. It includes dishwashing the entire contents of the kitchen and treating carpets and soft furnishings with virucidal disinfectant mist, with our housekeepers changing their PPE each time they enter a new room.

“We’ve had to double up on staff, spend a fortune on PPE and extend check in times, so we can complete the level of sanitary clean that is required to make us compliant.”

“There’s obviously a huge cost implication, however, it’s better to be able to open again and welcome in guests than remain closed.”

Further preventative measures include the removal of all non-essential and fabric furnishings, including rugs, from the properties as well as books, games and toys and the welcome baskets now only contain single-packaged items.

The couple are preparing themselves for a long journey ahead amid industry speculation that it could take years – rather than months – to fully recover from the effects of lockdown.

Steve said: “The revenue from the first few months when we reopen will be used to refund the remainder of guests who had to have their stays cancelled. This, on top of fear of a second wave of coronavirus in the autumn, makes it difficult to try and make any headway this year. On top of that, we’re nosediving into a depression and think it’s fair to stay that recovery for hospitality and tourism will take a lot longer than some other sectors.”

Once cash flow allows, the couple are planning to resume work on converting a former day nursery building into a new holiday home that sleeps 11. It is hoped the lodge, which comes complete with exclusive star-gazing dome and hot tub, will now be complete by early winter.

Visit Winchcombe Farm Holidays at: http://winchcombefarm.co.uk/

Raffle offers £1k worth of prizes in aid of five local charities

Raffle offers £1k worth of prizes in aid of five local charities

HOSPITAL charities in Warwickshire will be among those to benefit from a raffle to help good causes in the county.

Organisers of Warwickshire’s Summer 2020 Charity Raffle hope to raise £5,000 to share between five Warwickshire charities.

The charities are University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire Charity (UHCW Charity), South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust Charity (SWFT Charity), The George Eliot Hospital Charity (GEH Charity), Coventry & Warwickshire Mind, and Coventry & Warwickshire Age UK.

Entrants will have a chance to win one of 50 prizes worth over £1,000 in total.

They include two weeks of one-to-one wedding planning assistance, a VIP pamper and prosecco party for eight people, a cooking workshop, a meal for two at Cafe Vin Cinq, and a one-month free gym membership voucher with a personalised training programme.

Organiser Sarah Cheney said: “In the past months, there has been a lot of fundraising for national charities during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we want to raise funds to help our local community directly so they can continue to provide their invaluable services to Warwickshire.”

Entry costs a minimum of £5. Visit https://the-warwickshire-review.rallyup.com/warwickshires-summer-charity-raffle-2020 for more information.