BUSINESSES leaders have welcomed the second step out of lockdown saying they are looking forward to town and city centres across the region thronging with life again.

From Monday non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms, nail salons, libraries, and outdoor attractions such as theme parks will be allowed to reopen, along with outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants - with the rule of six or a larger group from two households

Durham Markets Company managing director Colin Wilkes said: “Our traders all all looking forward to coming back. It’s been a long haul over winter.

“We are bit of a family in the market so it will be nice to get together again on a daily basis. It is something that everybody has missed.

“We hope consumers will not have forgotten where the independent shops are and will come out to support us.

“Luckily we happen to be in a very airy building, so we are able to put the usual Covid measures in place.

“We will be opening the covered market at 9am on Monday and the outdoor markets will start on Thursday with the Farmers’ Market and the outdoor market on Saturday, April 17.”

Durham BID manager Adam Deathe said: “I think it’s fantastic it’s what we need as a society as we start to to get back to some semblance of normality.

“It is essential all our towns and city centres reopen and are thronging with people again.

“Businesses are desperate to see people back but we what we would also want to stress is the need to use any public space safely.

“We do need to be mindful of social distancing and the requirement to cover their faces unless exempt and to wash your hands.

Susan Blackburn of Phoenix Hair and Beauty in Bishop Auckland said: “We are very happy and excited to reopen so we can bring back some happiness to our lovely clients who we have missed so much.

“I feel very sorry for our clients especially the ones who still have to work with fringes over their eyes and grey roots. Having your hair did and a pamper is such a good stress reliever.

“Our salon-like many others have spent a lot of time and money to make sure we are fully compliant and safe.”

Libby Bargewell, Landlady of The Crown pub, in Crook, said: “We are hoping to get our beer garden open for April 12 and we are looking forward to inviting our regulars back.

Sam Zair of Sam Zair’s Cafe, Bishop Auckland said: “This has been the most challenging time of everyone’s lives. April 12 is also going to be challenging because it’s not just about opening our doors and everything will be the same as before, it will not be.

“We still have to be cautious regarding the virus and at the same time kickstart our businesses so that we can be as successful as we were before the pandemic took hold. Lesley and I can’t wait to roll our sleeves up and welcome back our customers.”

Amanda Healy, Durham County Council’s director of public health, said: “We are all delighted that the government’s roadmap remains on target and that further businesses can reopen from Monday 12 April.

"Our leisure centres will reopen on this date and gym, swim, and outdoor fitness facilities will be available with measures in place such as extra staff training, more rigorous cleaning, and limited numbers to implement social distancing and the use of face coverings.

“I would like to thank residents for staying safe and following current lockdown rules over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. While we are seeing positive results thanks to everyone’s hard work, I would like to encourage people to keep up these efforts as we move into the next phase of restrictions easing.

"It is vital that we continue to follow rules that are still in place and public health guidance, such as maintaining social distancing, wearing face coverings, and washing hands regularly, to avoid infection rates increasing.”

Mark Braithwaite CEO of 1Life, which runs leisure centres in Seaham and Peterlee, said: “Naturally we are delighted with the announcement from the Prime Minister, confirming gyms and swimming pools can reopen on Monday.

“We will continue to deliver exceptional levels of cleanliness and safety, which our community experienced from us when we were operational last summer and autumn.

“When we do re-open, face coverings must be worn in reception, whilst circulating through the centres and in changing rooms / toilets. They can be removed when completing exercise.

“Swimming sessions and group exercise classes must be booked and can be done so via the 1Life app and online. This will be reviewed on a month-by-month basis.”

Karol Carter, manager at Rainton Arena, said: “Like businesses across the North-East and beyond, we are delighted to be finally able to welcome customers back.

“Rainton Arena lends itself beautifully to outdoor events – such as our spring fair – and is fully Covid-safe so families can enjoy a great day out. We have been thrilled with the response to the news that we’re re-opening and we are confident that it will soon be business as normal.

“It’s been a tough year for everyone but we fully anticipate that our business will continue to grow.”