How is Norfolk and Waveney preparing for lockdown easing?
- Credit: Shaun Crowley
Families and businesses are gearing up for lockdown restrictions to finally ease, with the next stage of the government's roadmap less than a week away.
From March 29, people across Norfolk and Waveney will be able to meet loved ones outside in small groups for the first time since Christmas.
Outdoor gatherings can be comprised of either six people or two households, including in private gardens.
Outdoor sports facilities will also be allowed to reopen, meaning golf, tennis and basketball can resume.
Formally organised outdoor sports, such as football training and matches, can also restart again.
For many, excitement is growing at the chance to meet a slightly larger group of family or friends.
Marie Pearson-Youngs, from Attleborough, says her two children, Zoe and Jasper, have been desperate since December to see their grandmother.
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"The easing is definitely a relief and the best thing will be my kids being able to see their Nan again," said the 32-year-old.
"They've not been able to see her since Christmas. We have been doing plenty of phone calls but it's just not the same.
"Both Zoe and Jasper have their birthdays in April, so we'll have to work out what we're allowed to do."
Despite looking forward to the changes, Mrs Pearson-Youngs is wary that rules being relaxed could easily lead to some getting carried away.
"I am a bit apprehensive about and wonder whether things could go pear-shaped," she added.
"Let's hope that coronavirus has taught us, as a society, to protect our vulnerable and that we are not all immune."
Changes are also afoot for Brenda Muse and her husband, Alan, whose ill health means he has been forced to shield.
The government will drop its advice telling people to shield from April 1, serving as welcome news for the Diss couple.
"It will make a big difference for Alan because he has had to stay inside," said Mrs Muse. "As far as we're concerned, we'll be able to come into Diss together and sit in the park.
"It is not a huge thing but it is something nice for him to look forward to.
"I just hope people will still follow the guidelines. Diss already seems to be getting slightly busier again, so we will have to be careful.
"People will probably assume they can travel as they want and I think that is what will happen over the Easter break. I am dreading Easter because I think people are going to break the rules and do their own thing."
The matter of how far people will be permitted to travel from March 29 is fast becoming one of the key questions ahead of the imminent changes.
In its roadmap plan, the government advised the public to "minimise travel wherever possible", but failed to provide specifics on what its new message - 'stay local' - actually means in practice.
And now MPs in our region have called for further clarity, including North Norfolk's Duncan Baker who has tabled a written parliamentary question in a bid to clear up lingering doubts.
"One area that has been a continual problem and I’ve tried so hard to help with is clarity over the stay local message," said Mr Baker.
"To me this isn’t clear. It’s ambiguous."
Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said: "I think there is a need for a bit more clarity. It is an issue I've been aware of and I anticipate that, over the next week, this will be raised within government and they will look to provide more information.
"It is only appropriate to do so, especially with there being an Easter weekend a few days after the 29th. What we don't want to see is a great deal of traffic on our roads.
"I suppose the issue in terms of refraining from being specific is that the term 'local' can vary quite dramatically according to where you are in the country."
In response to queries from this newspaper, the Cabinet office said further information on travel advice will be "set out in due course".
With a much clearer idea of its position on March 29 is Beccles Lido, which is permitted to reopen its outdoor swimming pool just in time for the school holidays.
Kept Covid-compliant with an online booking system which only opened on Saturday, the popular attraction has already filled swimming 2,500 slots for the Easter period.
"By Monday morning we should have the pool at 28C and, hopefully, that will be us open for the summer," said Shaun Crowley, chief executive of Beccles Lido Ltd.
"We'll probably only be operating at 25pc of the people we'd usually have in the pool at any one time, but it is great to be back. It is what it is and we'll make the best of it.
"It has been a tough year but, that being said, it has introduced us to a new way of working online. The booking system works well and last year we started cold water swimming which went on until December."
Adhering to a slightly different rulebook is nearby Hippersons Boatyard, which won't recommence day boat hire until April 12 due to combination of safety reasons and impracticalities.
But co-owner Simon Sparrow says there has been ample interest in its range of overnight accommodation, as the Great British staycation looks set to enjoy another successful year.
"Interest so far has been really good and the accommodation is very busy," he said. "There's not been too much activity with the day boats, but of course they are weather dependent.
"People are keen to get booked because they are bored of being locked down and unable to go abroad. The staycation trend is driving people to holiday in places they normally wouldn't, and people are realising what is right on their doorstep.
"Last year we didn't get going until July, where as this year we're only missing a little bit of April. It's not too bad in the grand scheme of things."
Sport lovers will no doubt be keen to get their fitness fix and, in south Norfolk, bookings are being accepted for the use of the 3G football pitches and tennis courts in Wymondham and Long Stratton.
Mark Heazle, leisure business development manager at South Norfolk Council, explained: "There is a lot of demand from clubs for the pitches, so most of those will be bulk bookings.
"We will have some boot camps happening outside as well, which we have not been able to do until now.
"We are really looking forward to seeing our members again."