The UK Government announced that pubs, hotels, restaurants and many other areas of the hospitality, entertainment and service sectors could re-open from July 4th providing they follow guidelines on social distancing and sanitising.
On assignment for Getty Images I was sent up to Newcastle to look for things to illustrate this key moment in the coronavirus story so far.
Arriving early in the morning and starting was to be a very long day I left the car park and headed out to find men’s barber shops. Knowing they would be busy I began photographing several of them as I walked around town.
Fortunately I was able to get some pictures early so could head back to the car to edit and file them. Getting an early set of pictures sent always takes a small amount of pressure off.
I repeated this process a few more times throughout the day covering a decent distance and walking a circuitous route so that I ultimately ended up back where my car was to edit.
Each time I tried to find something a little different but also not ignoring something if I thought it would make an ok picture even if I had shot something similar earlier.
After getting access into a snooker hall and shooting outside a few of the restaurants and pubs I headed back to the car to send this small final set.
Throughout the day it was clear that it was not going to be as busy as might have been expected. Of course there were more people out than there have been over recent weeks as these restrictions ease but it was still quite clear that this wasn’t a ‘normal’ Saturday by any means.
All the barber shops and everyone else I approached had implemented all the social distancing and sanitising precautions and were totally fine with pictures being taken. It was quite nice for a change to not encounter at least some abuse from someone.
The second part of my day was to head north of Newcastle to Gosforth and a pub called ‘The Job Bulman’. The former post office building was built in 1928 and served Gosforth and district for more than 50 years. Named after a respected local doctor who had a hand in the early development of Gosforth the pub is now owned by the Wetherspoons pub chain.
My job that evening was to show people back in a pub for the first time since lockdown started and having a drink while they tried to adhere to the new social distancing guidelines and restrictions.
Admittedly having to hang around a pub all night trying to get pictures isn’t my favourite thing in the world knowing that pictures that sometimes result from people drinking can be used in all manner of ways and not always accurately portray what it was like.
But as this was a genuine news story considering where we are with the pandemic there was no alternative other than getting in amongst it and shooting some pictures.
The pub had all the measures in place with a briefing to customers from the door staff on entry, hand sanitiser and track and trace forms available to those who wanted to compete them as they entered. Distanced tables, no standing, card payments only, ordering by apps if they could, signage and floor markings everywhere and plastic screens protecting bar staff.
In the majority of cases and to be fair from what I saw everyone was trying to adhere as best they could to social distancing.
Once again and slightly surprisingly I have to admit the vast majority of people were happy to have me hanging around taking pictures. You can’t just loiter in a pub with a camera taking pictures because, well it looks dodgy straight away doesn’t it? So you have to approach people and tell them what you’re doing. There were a few who said they didn’t want to be photographed and that’s ok but I was expecting more to say no so it did make the job a little easier.
On a personal level after seeing the pub last night I still wouldn’t feel comfortable going to one in the current climate. Because even with all these measures in place and with the majority of people aware of and trying to follow the guidelines there are still unavoidable situations when it doesn’t happen for whatever reason.
So after a couple of hours I decided that I’d had enough and called it a night.
Of course going forward and for the time being at least we all have to take these first steps back towards some kind of normality in all aspects of daily life. But with these restrictions rightly in place, it does still make it all a very surreal affair.
Lets not forget that at the time of publishing this post there have been 516 further cases announced and 22 deaths today – source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ – The number is reducing yes, but it’s more than a number for so many families and communities. It’s way more than that and while first steps are welcome for everyone for all the reasons we know about complacency and disregard for this virus can easily send us all on a downward spiral back to a far worse situation.
Images (c) Ian Forsyth / Getty Images
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