PUBS all over the UK will be reopening today, but although this may be the moment thousands of patrons have waited for, they cannot expect a return to normality straight away. JOE HARRIGAN reports on how one Blackburn pub is preparing to open its doors and keep customers safe.

The Clifton Arms, of Grimshaw Park, Blackburn, has been just one of many local pubs that has been sorely missed by its community since the onset of lockdown in March.

A relatively small establishment, the Clifton Arms is in some ways much better placed than larger pubs to put new health and safety measures in place and to monitor the clientele as it reopens on Saturday.

And, as landlady Carole Davis explained, the preparation process began some time before the day itself.

She said: “All the staff and myself have done training and I’ve been through one-to-ones with each of them.

“I’ve asked if there’s anything else they’d like us to implement but everything’s fine with the ones that are coming back.”

Mrs Davis explained that she had hit upon the idea of a phased reopening, that the pub would be open to its dedicated local customers over the weekend before opening to the public at large from Monday.

On arrival hand sanitiser will be available and customers will be asked for their names and phone numbers which will be kept in a confidential logbook that will be destroyed within 21 days.

These details will, however, be passed on to the NHS in the event of another virus outbreak.

All around the pub, the walls will be adorned with warning signs, while markers on the floor will help people keep to the required social distancing measurements.

Customers will then follow a one-way system to be seated at a table where they will need to pay for drink by card.

Mrs Davis said: “The issue is a lot of the older people don’t really want to use the card, they want to use cash, so I’ve had to temporarily employ some more table staff.”

She added: “All these measures though, they’re not just for us as staff, they’re for everybody else as well.”

“We want people to feel safe and to be safe, so that’s why we’re having to abide by these rules.”

The toilets will operate on a strict one-in-one out basis and staff will also be sanitising them every 30 to 45 minutes.

Washrooms will also be equipped with PPE, automatic hand driers and pedal bins.

Masks will be available at the end of the bar, while tables will only be using disposable bar mats.

Customers will then need to leave through the back way.

Mrs Davis said: “I’ve told my customers that this virus is still around and the posters are there so that every time they’re talking, they’ll be looking up at a sign.

She added: “We’re quite small compared to some of the others so I can keep an eye on things in a way that some of these massive ones can’t.

“It’s going to be very challenging but we’re hopeful.”

Local health authorities hope that people keen to get back pubs like the Clifton Arms will work with publicans and bar staff in helping things run as smooth as possible.

East Lancashire GP Dr David White said: “Anyone can get the virus, anyone can spread it - The most important thing you can do is take precautions to keep yourself, your friends and your family safe.

“Keep your distance and limit contact from other people, wash or sanitise your hands regularly and wear a face covering if you need to use public transport.

“If you or anyone in your household has symptoms, or you’ve been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, please do not leave your house and risk spreading the virus.”

As such NHS guidelines remain for people to stick up to two metres social distance wherever possible, to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and to wear a cloth mask in all enclosed public spaces.

Meanwhile local government bodies are gearing up to cope with the challenges the weekend will present.

Speaking on behalf of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, which has been coordinating the county’s response to the crisis, chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen Council Denise Park also stressed the importance of pub goers behaving responsibly.

She said: “I know that many people in the hospitality trade are looking forward to re-opening after more than three months of being forced to close their doors.

“Many members of the public are also looking forward to getting back to their favourite pubs, bars and restaurants but both customers and staff need to be vigilant about the new guidelines in order to protect each other.

“New hygiene rules and guidance on social distancing are massively important and will help to keep everything running as smoothly as possible.”

Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw has joined the chorus of voices calling for people to be careful this weekend.

He said: “It is welcome news that we are able to take, however cautiously, more steps to reopen the county further, whilst accepting that we will still need to manage the spread of this virus in the short to medium term.

“After what has been and continues to be a frightening time for many, it may be tempting to see this weekend as a return to normality, but I would urge everyone to continue observing social distancing guidelines which remain our best weapon in preventing a resurgence of the virus and ultimately saving thousands of lives.

“Officers will continue to reassure and advise the public of the Government guidelines whilst enforcement has remained a last resort throughout the pandemic. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own actions.

“I am proud of how as a county we have adapted throughout this crisis and I know that together we can continue to move forward.”