IT'S a day many have been waiting for and there were plenty of people ready to get back to "something like normal".

"Excitement" was the word on everyone's lips as some of those businesses which had previously been unable to open after lockdown got to open their doors.

May 17 has seen a variety of businesses in the leisure and entertainment industries reopen, as well as many restaurants and pubs which were unable to provide outdoor service. 

The Northern Echo has been speaking to people in Darlington to find out what they have been missing. 

'It's the longest time I've been off'

Debbie Eccles, who has been running the Sunflower Café for almost 16 years, was delighted to welcome customers back to her spot in Buckton’s Yard after being closed since the start of the November lockdown.

She said: “It’s been a bit like being a new starter this morning. It was nice to see the regulars coming back and seeing that they are ok. It was a busy morning.

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“People have been really happy and really looking forward to getting back.

“It’s still worrying really. There are thoughts about are we going to survive and that kind of thing  but hopefully people will keep coming back.

“I think what people have missed is coming in and talking to people.

“I’m just happy to be back because it’s the longest time I’ve ever been off.”

'People have been coming rain, sleet and snow'

Chris Metters, landlord at the Boot and Shoe, in Church Row, said: “I was worried about today, more than the first time because we’re trying to keep standards in the bar as well as outside.

“We’ve taken on extra staff and we’re just trying to give as many hours as we can.

“It’s nice to make money but it’s also nice to be providing work and giving people more than furlough.”

He added: “It’s a step we have to get through but it’s good to be seeing some familiar faces after so long and getting back to normality.

“It’s what people have been longing for – having a chat over a pint. They’ve had a bit of that outside – we’ve had some glorious weather and some bad weather but people have been coming rain, sleet or snow. I would like to thank every one of them. They’ve helped us massively over the last four years and its much appreciated.”

Regular Glen Storey, 65, from Darlington, said: “It’s absolutely brilliant. Chris deserves a medal. He’s provided us with cover and heating but its good to get back inside.

“He’s saved the town centre.”

Bob Kelsey, also enjoying a pint at the Boot and Shoe., was there with a friend. He said: “It’s nice to have a drink in a pub. It’s nothing to do with drinking, it’s the society. I’ve only seen my best mate twice in 18 months.”

'I've been pulling my hair out'

Christine Toomey, 74, from Darlington, who was at Buzz Bingo, in Skinnergate, said: “I’ve been pulling my hair out. I’m 74 and I live on my own so to be able to come out here is fantastic.

“The staff here are lovely and you make friends.

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“I’ve missed it desperately. I couldn’t sleep last night. I usually don’t get up until 9am but I was up at 7.30am.”

Angela Middlemas, 53 from Newton Aycliffe, who was also at the bingo hall, added: “I was a bit nervous coming out. I haven’t been far because I’m extremely vulnerable so it’s nice to see people again.”

Her friend, from Darlington, added: “I couldn’t wait to get out. The cat has me at home all of the time so she was wondering where I was going.”

Friends Beverley Holbrought, Lynn Heseltine and Anne Leighton were enjoying a game at Buzz Bingo in Skinnergate.

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Lynn said: “We’re excited to be here – it’s great. It’s been over a year so I couldn’t wait to get out.”

Anne added: "It was a bit strange coming in but apart from that it has been great and it's well run.

"Getting on the bus was strange for the first time in seven months. I've forgotten the times of everything."

Loyal customer Ian Dorward, 72, from Middleton St George, cut the ribbon at a mini re-opening. He said: “I’m glad to get out again. I’ve been stuck in for so long.

“I was a bit nervous before I came out but it’s been alright.

“I like the company here.”

'I'm so excited to have some normality'

Linda Clough, manager at the Pennyweight, in Bakehouse Hill, which is running a first come first served service, said: “I’m surprised by how busy it is but I think people just don’t want to be stuck in the house. We all just want to get back to real life.”

She added: “I’m so excited to have some normality.

“This year has been ridiculous. It’s so up and down. It’s nice to get back to some kind of normal. We’ve lost so many members of staff to furlough so we’ve taken on a couple of part time members of staff.

“I still feel apprehensive because it feels like they could shut us down at any point.”

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Abi Walton said she was happy to be back behind the bar. She said: “It’s so lovely to have everyone in – everyone has been so excited to come in.

“The atmosphere is the main reason for a pub, especially in a town centre.”