Garden centres, games and exercising more - how Central Lancashire reacted to slightly relaxed lockdown restrictions
It was the day that Lancashire’s golfers and gardeners had been waiting for – when both were able to fully indulge their passions once again.
As of this morning, golfers were permitted to return to the county’s fairways, as part of the first tentative relaxation of lockdown rules, which has also seen some tennis courts and fishing sites reopen.
People are now also allowed to meet one person from outside their household in an outdoor space, provided they keep two metres apart, and exercise for an unlimited time each day.
The Post's cameras found Preston's parks fairly quiet on Wednesday morning, a few hours after the slightly eased restrictions came into force. The advice from the government remains to stay at home "as much as possible" to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the green-fingered – many of whom have sought outdoor solace in their gardens – can now also return to the traditional way of buying something to put in them.
Those garden centre operators which have been running a delivery service during the lockdown had some indication of the likely reaction when they invited customers back through their doors.
“The online orders have been extremely popular and so we didn’t really publicise that the centre itself would be opening again today – we thought we’d just seen how it went,“ explains Steven Ainscough, who owns the Birkacre Garden Centre in Chorley.
“We’ve had a nice steady flow of people coming through. Obviously, things are very different and we have put measures in place to keep people socially distanced.
“We have a lot of outdoor space, but not that much in the car park, so instead of getting people to queue when they arrive, we have allowed them into the plant area and are using that as a holding space until they can go through.
“Then we have a one-way system in place and are just asking people to browse courteously.”
While the online service has helped his business cope with the coronavirus crisis, Steven says that he has lost a lot of stock – particularly bulbs, which have to be sold when they are at their best, and food for the on-site restaurant, which remains closed.
He is warning gardeners to expect knock-on effects throughout the planting season, because of the measures which growers have had to take during the lockdown. But Steven says that people will welcome the chance to get back to the very personal business of choosing their own blooms.
“It’s difficult to second guess what people would like, as we had to when picking online orders. You don’t get a true picture until you see things in the flesh.”
Meanwhile, over at Preston Golf Club, a very different pastime – but the same sense of satisfaction at being able to enjoy it once again.
Club chairman Chris Sumner said that the nearly 80 tee-off slots available on the first day of play at the course for nearly two months were snapped up within a quarter of an hour of becoming available.
“We’re so relieved – it’s been a very difficult and frustrating period.
“The nature of golf means that social distancing is almost part of the game – you very rarely get within 20 yards of each other. We are also insisting only two balls go out, ten minutes’ apart to prevent a backlog.
“We are just marshalling the first tee to make sure people don’t mingle and understand what they need to do – but so far it’s working well.”
Not everything is the same as it was, of course – furniture like benches has been removed and everybody must use their own clubs. And even the reassuring sound of the ball dropping deep into the hole will not be heard for a good while yet.
“We have more or less covered the hole so that the ball doesn’t go down to the bottom – it basically sits on the top, so you don’t touch anything other than your ball [when retrieving it].
“But we’re a respite from the gloom – and it’s been so good-natured. People are so happy that they’re able to get out again – there are a lot of smiling faces,” Chris says.
THE RULES OF THE GAME
After initially stating that golfers must play alone or with another member of their household, the government has since said that two players can tee off together – even if they are from different households – providing they maintain the required two-metre distance throughout their round.
Singles tennis can be played between people of different households, again while respecting social distancing. Doubles games can only be played if all four participants are living together.
Angling has also made a return to Lancashire’s waters, having been deemed a safe pursuit providing social distancing is maintained.
The Angling Trust already advises anglers to cast out no closer than 15 metres to fellow fishers – and matches and organised angling events are still not permitted.
Dr Graeme Storey, acting deputy director for fisheries at the Environment Agency, said: “In these challenging times responsible fishing provides a wonderful opportunity to connect with nature and feel the range of benefits doing so can bring.
“If you are going fishing then you must have a valid fishing licence and adhere to fishing by-laws and fishery rules.”