SHOPS, pubs, gyms and hairdressers were last night making the last-minute preparations ready to welcome customers today.

Businesses across the town will reopen their doors as the latest set of lockdown measures are eased.

Non-essential retail shops will be able to reopen, as will leisure centres, hairdressers and beauty salons. 

Restaurants and pubs will only be able to serve customers outdoors, with indoor drinking not set to return until May 17. 

Swindon Advertiser:

Shoppers in the town centre yesterday Picture: DAVE COX

Overnight stays away from home in England will be permitted and self-contained accommodation can also reopen, but these must only be used by members of the same household or support bubble.

Bar staff at The Hop, Devizes Road, were busy putting the finishing touches to their outdoor drinking area. 

Pubs have been cleared to reopen, with drinkers only allowed outdoors and landlords required to follow stricter track-and-trace rules. 

“I think we’re pretty much ready,” said landlord Jason Putt. “We’ve obviously got the benefit of a reasonably sized outside space and we’ve got a marquee and covered area. It will be nice to have people in through the door.”

Opposite The Hop, The Tap and Brew opened a few months before the start of lockdown – a tap room for Hawksworth-based Hop Kettle Brewery. 

The bar’s Andy Fisher said staff had been busy cleaning the premises, which will also serve as a temporary off-licence selling alcohol to takeaway. 

He quipped: “Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the British weather but we’re confident we can rely on our beer lovers and can’t wait to welcome them back.”

Further down the road, Ellen Wray of Kapada, a vintage store in Devizes Road, had spent the last week cleaning and restocking the store ready for customers’ return this week. 

She said of the past three months: “It’s been okay, I feel. Obviously, it’s been quieter than it would have been if I’d been open. But I have a website that I sell through and people have been really supportive. It’s such a good community in Old Town.” 

Swindon Advertiser:

Devizes Road, Old Town Picture: DAVE COX

Next door, Dave Blaylock, a director at Old Town institution Blaylocks Shoes, said: “We came back after Christmas and reopened on December 28 with our after-Christmas sale. We had two days of the sale then we were shut down.” The missed sale was likely to return for a couple of weeks after the store reopens today, he said. He thanked his customers for their patience. 

Down the hill, in Gorse Hill, Sophie Mastalerz of Flawless Hair and Beauty on Cricklade Road was getting her shop ready for reopening. 

She said of the past few months: “It’s been quite hard. I’m not a ‘home’ person – I’m a worker. It’s been quite lonely, because you’re not seeing anyone, you’re missing everyone.” Ms Mastalerz said she was fully booked for the next three to four weeks, working until 7.30pm during the week then doing a 12 hour day on Saturday from 6am to 6pm. 

“I’m in here now,” she told the Adver on Saturday afternoon. “I’ve given it a clean. I’m ready to go come Monday morning.” 

Another looking forward to returning today was Martin Hawes, who sells the magazine outside Marks and Spencer’s on Regent Street. He has been absent from his usual pitch during the third lockdown – in common with other Big Issue vendors.

The 60-year-old said: “I’m looking forward to being back on my pitch with a welcome smile to welcome back all my regular customers as well as new ones. 

“Selling The Big Issue isn’t all about money, it’s my way of dealing with my mental health problems as this third lockdown has had a very serious impact on me.”