People are preparing for Christmas with parties and gatherings returning after last year's Covid regulations in the county – but some venues are not seeing the influx of bookings they usually would.

Pubs and restaurants are gearing up for what is normally the busiest time of the year for them with work parties and families coming together in the lead up to the festive season.

When the hospitality industry was closed last December, work parties were all cancelled so many teams have got their bookings in, however one pub manager believes some employers are still avoiding organising group gatherings.

Gary Smith is the manager of the Bridgewater in Darwen and he said that he hasn’t seen the usual number of bookings and believes that employers may be hesitant to book parties still.

Gary said: “We have not got many bookings. Normally, they come in late August or early September but we didn’t get them.

“We went out to talk to businesses and we have started seeing more bookings since that.

“To be honest, I think employers are still being cautious. The last thing the want is to have a party with lots of employees and everyone end up getting Covid.

"I am really looking forward to Christmas this year though.

"We are getting the decorations up this week ready for the light switch-on on Saturday."

Steven and Rebecca Prince are landlord and landlady of the Grey Mare in Belthorn and have managed the pub for over 20 years.

Through the years they have had many Christmas parties walk through the door; Rebecca said that she thinks because people could not come together to celebrate last year, this year will be bigger than ever.

She said: “I would say we are busier. People seem to be eager to come out.

“We are going to make this year bigger and better than before.

“We are trying to fit more people in now we have the marquee with the heaters which we will be decorating for Christmas.

“It is very exciting to welcome people back for parties after missing them last year.

“We are very busy, especially on weekend nights, with some days being fully booked already.”

Andrew Novak who runs the Firepit and Grill chain has said that the Rawtenstall branch is busier than usual and that the new Blackburn restaurant has started recently picking up.

He said: “It is starting to pick up – we are fully booked in Rawtenstall on Christmas Day which is faster than normal.

“Christmas parties are about the same as normal I would say.

“Blackburn is starting to get busier but its hard to tell how it will do with it being the first year.

“In general, it’s serving alright.”