Sunderland businesses prepare for bumper Bank Holiday as support for independents grows

Businesses across Wearside are hoping for a bumper Bank Holiday weekend – despite the forecast for a mixed bag of weather.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 7:00 am

For the city’s licensed premises, this will be the first public holiday they will have been able to open for outdoor drinks and dining.

Adapting to the current restrictions means many will be showcasing new and improved outdoor areas.

Among them is The Looking Glass in Sunniside which has unveiled a new Courtyard area, which holds 80 people with social distancing, adding to its existing patio at the front of the venue which holds 28.

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Businesses are looking forward to Bank Holiday support, come rain or shine

Since reopening on April 12, the venue, which is open Thursdays to Sundays, has welcomed 600 people through the doors with weekends fully booked.

Harry Collinson, who owns the business with wife Nicola, said: “The response has been incredible, people are so glad to be back out socialising.

"It’s been very humbling for our team to be welcomed back in the way we have.”

Nicola added: “Creating the Courtyard makes us like a brand new venue. People have been visiting and loved it so much they’ve booked to come again straight away.”

The new Court Yard outdoor space at The Looking Glass with owner Harry Collinson.

From the week beginning May 17, the indoor restaurant and function room will be reopening and in June the site will be able to hold 400 people, providing the Government’s roadmap goes to plan.

Harry said: “We’ve always aimed to be a multi-purpose, destination venue and The Courtyard has really added to that. We feel like we’re the city centre’s best-kept secret.”

The Wolsey in Roker has also improved its outdoor space with a canopy, gazebo and undercover shed seating in its beer garden.

It’s been a difficult 18 months for the local pub after a fire in late 2019, followed by the pandemic.

Booths and heaters have been installed at the Courtyard at The Looking Glass in Sunniside.

But reopening their outdoor space has allowed the business to start getting back on its feet and they too are fully booked for the Bank Holiday weekend.

Kate Klein from The Wolsey said: “We’ve been fully booked every day and everyone has been spot on. They really appreciate being back out and will even sit in the hailstones.

"All our regulars have come back and it’s like we’ve never been away.”

For some businesses with a takeout offering they’ve been able to trade as normal for the past few months. Sue’s Cafe has been a seafront staple for 17 years and after closing for 11 weeks during the first Lockdown has been back open since May last year where its pink slices, sausage sandwiches, coffees and more have provided people with some much-needed comfort during the pandemic.

The front patio area at The Looking Glass

Owner Sue Parkin, who invests much in the local community, whether it’s paying for plants at the seafront or sponsoring nearby schools, says she’s definitely noticed a surge in support.

“The support from the local people has been absolutely fantastic,” she said. “As soon as they were allowed our regulars came back and we’ve also seen new customers. I think a lot of people didn’t realise what they had on their doorstep, the lovely seafront that we have.”

She added: “Bank Holidays are always weather dependent, but I think with people not going abroad they’re starting to appreciate Roker and Seaburn more and the businesses that are here.

“Many people have thanked us for being open and bought us bottles of wine, which is lovely.”

Sue’s is undergoing a programme of investment with improvements and new outdoor seating in time for the summer.

Another business whose services have been greatly appreciated throughout the lockdowns is Downey’s who have fish and chip restaurants across Sunderland, as well as in Seaham.

Partially-covered areas have been added at The Wolsey which is proving popular, come rain or shine

While their sit-in areas are closed until May 17, their takeaway operation has been hugely successful, particularly on Bank Holidays.

Glen Downey said: “We’ve been really busy as fish and chips are such a comfort food for people. There’s been so much support for local business and that looks set to continue on the seafront with staycations. I’ve spoken to B&B owners who’ve been inundated and it’s great to see that money staying in the local economy.”

He added: “Bank Holidays are always busy. Usual Sundays can be a bit flat, but on a Bank Holiday weekend it’s like having two Saturdays.”

The Seaham, Stack Seaburn and Roker restaurants will be reopening when permitted, with the latter due to undergo a major refurbishment in the coming days ready for the busy summer season.

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Sue's Cafe owner Sue Parkin with one of their top sellers, the pink slice
Gareth Downey from the popular local chain Downey's