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Staying positive amid the Covid uncertainty – hospitality and theatre businesses upbeat as Chancellor offers support



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It should be one of the busiest times of year, but the Omicron variant means it's another challenging Christmas season for businesses.

Yet, despite the cost of cancellations and fears of new restrictions, traders and venues in our area are trying to see the positives, despite some mistrust of those in power.

Kurt Oliver, owner of The White Hart pub in Swaffham said today: "It's another year of insecurity."

The White Hart in Swaffham.
The White Hart in Swaffham.

He believes the hospitality industry distrusts what the government says, adding of Prime Minister Boris Johnson: "He's saying all the same things as last year. Last time it cost us £5,000 on wasted food and beer.

"We cancelled our usual beer delivery and are running on the bare minimum.

"We've had 30 per cent of our bookings cancelled but we've quite a reputation for delivering food, so on Christmas Day we will deliver to your door, which will help out.

Christmas parties have been heavily hit by Omicron fears, but hospitality businesses in our area are trying to see the positives.
Christmas parties have been heavily hit by Omicron fears, but hospitality businesses in our area are trying to see the positives.

"We've had a breakfast with Santa event every day in Christmas week but this morning had just two bookings for today."

The London Street pub's business also been affected by closures at the Thursford Spectacular and Polar Express at Dereham, which have had their remaining 2021 performances and trains cancelled respectively.

"We're on the Thursford arrival route," added Mr Oliver. "It's pretty devastating but we're upbeat."

Mr Oliver spoke ahead of the announcement of a new range of support measures by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, this lunchtime.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Chancellor Rishi Sunak

He is offering a £1 billion support package of grants, worth £6,000 per business, to the hospitality sector, plus sick pay support for Covid absences from smaller firms.

Tom Oakley, general manager of the Ffolkes in Hillington, said things were "fairly positive" there, despite losses caused by the cancellation of corporate events and Christmas parties.

But he acknowledged the situation was "very difficult" for many and that they too could need additional support if tighter rules stop them from trading fully.

The Ffolkes at Hillington. (53881023)
The Ffolkes at Hillington. (53881023)

He added: "We can't do any more than look at the weeks in front of us. We're told we can open and we've got to order stock and plan for bookings."

One sector for which the festive season is particularly crucial is the theatre, as audiences flock to panto performances.

And, having missed out on their 2020 show amid winter lockdown, officials at Lynn's Corn Exchange say demand for seats at performances of Beauty & The Beast remains strong.

Demand to see the cast of Beauty & The Beast at Lynn's Corn Exchange is strong despite Covid fears, officials say.
Demand to see the cast of Beauty & The Beast at Lynn's Corn Exchange is strong despite Covid fears, officials say.

A spokesman for the venue's operator, Alive West Norfolk, said: “Surprisingly in the current climate, audience numbers are holding up very well.

“We are down on sales from this time in 2019 (1700 tickets roughly 10%) and this is solely on school cancellations due to COVID cases within their schools. We have had 11 out of 41 schools cancel. Public sales are on track with other years.”

The venue plans to continue its run of shows, which is due to end on New Year's Eve, as scheduled unless new restrictions are brought in.

Majestic Cinema - King's Lynn. (37537844)
Majestic Cinema - King's Lynn. (37537844)

And it's a similar message from the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton where Aladdin is on until New Year's Day.

Director Gemma Tandy said: "At the moment nothing has changed we are open and running and will continue unless the government imposes restrictions."

Meanwhile, cinemas are hoping they can feel the blockbuster benefit of the latest Spiderman film for a bit longer.

Joseph Marsh, manager of Lynn's Majestic, said: "It is doing really well and we are ever so pleased.

"We're just trucking along as per usual and just waiting. We are following guidelines."

Mr Sunak's announcement also included a £30 million top-up to the Culture Recovery Fund, which has supported many venues and attractions during the crisis.



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