Brighton’s howling winds and heavy rain don’t make for a promising night out.
The seafront is speckled with foam blown in from the roaring waves and people’s collars and hoods are pulled up tightly against the gales.
Yet they are bravely being buffeted along to get to the bars and restaurants opening for their first Friday night inside in months.
Being indoors with friends and family, the punters tell me, feels like a rare treat. Especially in this weather.
Everywhere we go, someone uses the word “surreal”. One lady, dressed up for her belated 50th, said she’d coined the time “going inside out” rather than going “out out”.
Another lady says “life is meant for living and we are living it!”.
‘We feel safe’
The Bell family is in the newly opened Due South restaurant visiting their daughter at university. It’s the first time they’ve sat down together all year rather than pounding the streets while they catch up.
Both parents have been vaccinated and the children are relaxed and frankly relieved about being inside.
The restaurant has only just opened after a year’s delay.
Head chef and owner Mark Wadsworth says the customers have been supportive throughout but he’s relieved that he can now bring people inside as “socialising is great for people’s mental health. We’ve turned down bookings and people are so excited to be here” .
‘Wiggle bottoms only’
The iconic live music venue Brighton Dome is hosting a series of gigs as part of the annual Brighton Festival.
This is a major moment after over a year of being closed. Singer Tiawa says it’s a bit of a one-off as most artists aren’t getting bookings until October at the moment.
Tonight’s event is a joyful one, tempered with pragmatism. They would normally host 1,800 people but this has been cut to 250 arranged in cabaret seating due to rules on social distancing.
As the compere puts it “it’s wiggle bottoms and chair dancing only tonight”.
Andrew Comben is the chief executive of Brighton Dome and the Brighton Festival and says in pure financial terms it doesn’t make sense to open in this way for a sustained period of time but that “we believe it’s really important to be reintroducing live performance again to build everyone’s confidence. It’s a muscle memory”.
They’ve sold out all their indoor events this week but with such small numbers, it’s hard to know if that bodes well for the future.
If all goes to plan, restrictions in England will be lifted in a month’s time, on 21 June.
But there is still a degree of uncertainty around that date which is making businesses nervous.
A spokesperson for the all-party parliamentary group for the night time economy said “businesses will be spending lots of time, money and energy preparing to re-open and running events – lead times are often several weeks in advance” and so they need to know what is happening sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, hospitality businesses hope this fledgling Friday night confidence will continue.
Despite overnight figures from the data company Springboard that show footfall in seaside towns on Friday night was 40% less than it was pre-Covid.