How region's hidden gems are faring as lockdown eases
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
Attractions offering escapism and fun are "jumping for joy" after a surge in bookings from friends and families since lockdown rules were lifted.
From May 17, indoor attractions could open again once more but the rule of six or two households still applies, along with mandatory mask wearing and social distancing.
And despite the arrival of the Indian variant in some parts of the UK, many bosses of indoor entertainment venues across Norfolk are positive about the restrictions easing with many saying friends and families are happy to get together safely at attractions from escape rooms and underground history walks to pottery cafes.
Boom: Battle Bar, which opened at Norwich's Castle Quarter in July last year, allows groups of up to six people to take part in activities including axe throwing and electronic darts as well as enjoying food and drink, via table service.
Owner David Moore said: "Our core demographic is 18-35-years-old and it is great for people to be able to socialise with their friends. A lot of the people who come to us don't necessarily have the fear of the older population.
"I'm feeling optimistic and pleased to get stuck in again."
He added the business was fortunate because it was in a large air conditioned space, covering 12,000 square feet, and was designed with social distancing in mind including a mobile phone app to order food.
All the equipment is also cleaned down with "a heck of a lot of antibacterial wipes".
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Tirion Davies, owner of Labyrinth Norwich, a laser tag and play cafe in Norwich's Rose Lane multi storey car park, said she had not advertised much about reopening because she was unsure about people's feelings on coming to indoor attractions.
But she said: "People are feeling good. It feels like a novelty for people to be out and about."
Miss Davies added the plastic laser tag guns were easy to clean after every use and the company, which opened 18 months ago, invested in a fresh air ventilation system last year to keep people safe.
The owner added the business was in a steady financial position and was hoping to restart birthday parties at the end of June - and that bookings were already coming in
Across the city, there was renewed interest in the Hidden History Tour, organised by History Mystery, under the Shoebox community hub on Castle Meadow, formerly known as KindaKafe.
Tom Gaskin, chief executive of Pop Up Enterprises community interest company, which runs the Shoebox, said: "People are delighted to be out. We offer escapism."
To keep people safe and socially distant, people stick to coloured boxes on the one-hour underground tour, which explores Norwich's 15th century past.
He added that compared to the start of the pandemic when businesses were unsure of what they could and could not do, he was "used to stopping and starting" but warned the tours could not financially survive another lockdown.
Lisa Willett, customer experience director of History Mystery, which also hosts an escape room experience in Blickling Church inspired by Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, said she felt like jumping for joy after getting bookings once more.
"Norfolk is benefitting from the staycation. People want lasting memories and are keen to come back to us. We are putting in measures to make sure they are safe," Mrs Willett said.
Another business which is benefitting from the summer tourist market is Sticky Earth Cafe on Church Street, Cromer, where people can paint their own ceramics.
Owner Sue Mears said: "We have had a lot of interest. People have not forgotten us."
But the owner urged people to ring ahead if they could not attend their two-hour slots to prevent problems.
David Tracey, co-owner of the escape room Puzzlescape, on Church Street, Dereham, said: "It is going to be a slow process in terms of people returning but we are positive things will go back to normal. One of the best things about escape rooms is it is for all ages. People want to do things again."