Saffron Walden gets set for a return to a post-pandemic normal

A montage: The Cross Keys in Saffron Walden superimposed over a signpost: "Restricted Width"

"We are ready to start getting back to normal" - Credit: Archant

It's time to start getting back to normal, the manager of a Saffron Walden restaurant has said.

Charlotte Mitchell, managing partner at the Cross Keys Hotel, is one of several Saffron Walden business leaders welcoming so-called Freedom Day on Monday, July 19 with "cautious optimism".

From Monday, legal limits on social contact - including the "rule of six" at indoor gatherings - will come to an end.

Businesses and customers will be able to decide for themselves how to stem the spread of Covid-19, a flexibility which hospitality leaders have said is important to encourage long-term confidence in the Uttlesford food and drink industry.

Charlotte said: "I think customers are at the point where their freedom has been restricted for so long that there is a real frustration with the rules.

"We are ready to start getting back to normal."

The new rules mark the fourth and final step in the government's lockdown easing roadmap.

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Masks or face coverings indoors will no longer be compulsory, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that face coverings are "expected" in indoor settings.

The one-metre rule will be lifted, which means bar service can resume.

Charlotte said staff at the Cross Keys can choose whether they want to wear a mask.

She added: "We will be keeping table service as that is easier for us and customers.

"We've also learnt over the past 18 months that Saffron Walden loves its food and wants to support small businesses.

"There's definitely a push towards local produce and a better understanding of the provenance of our food.

"People have been re-evaluating their lives and whether they want to work and spend money in London, or whether they want to stay local.

"Saffron Walden has always been supportive of small businesses and I think that will only grow."

An old Essex pub with beams: The Cross Keys Hotel. The sky is blue.

The Cross Keys Hotel and Restaurant, Saffron Walden. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

According to Google, the number of people visiting retail and recreation spaces in Essex was down nine per cent last week compared to a pre-pandemic "baseline" average, recorded from January 3-February 6, 2020.

Google uses its users' data to gauge footfall across different sectors of the economy.

The technology giant found London's retail and recreation footfall was 32 per cent down using the same method.

Saffron Walden Business Improvement District (BID) is looking into how people who previously commuted out of Saffron Walden plan to spend their money locally.

Louise Scutt-Richer, BID manager, said: "It's definitely a phenomenon: more people are working from home 

"It's something we have noticed. 

"In fact, in our polls about what people want to see in the town, one of the comments was that people are feel safer shopping in Saffron Walden than larger centres."

In Stansted, staff at the Queen's Head urged customers to look out for those who are feeling less confident returning to pubs and restaurants.

A spokesperson for the Queen's Head said: "Our message to customers is: Be safe and look after others who might want to take certain precautions.

"This virus is still out there.

"We want to make sure everyone feels able to go to get back to normal in a way which makes them feel comfortable and confident."

A pink sign in Saffron Walden warning pedestrians of a narrow path: "Restricted Width"

Saffron Walden BID put together a support programme for retail and hospitality firms. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

While the national rules on mask-wearing are changing, some companies - such as Ryanair - have said customers will still need to wear masks.

According to the BBC, the company will follow European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines on its aircraft out of Stansted Airport.

Ryanair jet taking off from Stansted

Ryanair jet taking off from Stansted - Credit: Archant

Rail operator Greater Anglia said: "We will continue to operate in line with government guidance.

"From July 19, the government recommends that people should wear face coverings in crowded areas – such as busy trains."

The company has developed a "less busy trains tool" and is following an enhanced cleaning regime.

Obligations to work from home will also end on Monday, and nightclubs can reopen.

People with a positive coronavirus test will still have to isolate.