Much-needed midnight haircuts, crack-of-dawn retail therapy and cheering thirsty pub-goers have ushered in the long-awaited reopening of a swathe of businesses across England.
Eager customers wasted no time in making the most of the easing of coronavirus restrictions on Monday as the country took the next significant step on its journey out of a third national lockdown.
Losing lengthy lockdown locks and reinvigorating beauty treatments were the priority for some as relaxed rules meant salons and hairdressers were able to treat customers for the first time since January 6.
Early-morning queues formed outside clothing stores, with thousands of non-essential retail premises now eligible to resume trading.
Punters desperate for a freshly-poured pint can quench their thirst in beer gardens, and diners can eat al fresco on restaurant terraces as outdoor hospitality venues reopen.
Indoor gyms, swimming pools, libraries and zoos are also welcoming back visitors, as England takes another tentative step back to normality.
Families flocked to Colchester Zoo as it reopened to the public, where Tuki Rounds, 40, from Croydon, admired the elephants with his two-year-old daughter Ruci.
“Like lots of kids she’s been in lockdown and lacking stimulus so it’s great for her to come and see some of the stuff in real life rather than on the telly,” he said.
A symbolic “first cut” of the year was held at the Hair & Beauty Gallery in Warwick as the clock struck midnight.
Owner Kelly Boad said it felt “great to have a pair of scissors back in my hands” and that her salon had bookings for weeks to come.
“I thought it would be nice to do a cut as soon as we possibly could and it wasn’t hard to find someone who wanted their hair doing after so long,” she told the PA news agency.
Beauty business Secret Spa, which offers at-home salon and spa treatments at home across London, Manchester and Brighton, began delivering services from midnight.
Co-owner Emily Ewart-Perks said confirmation of the return of personal care services had triggered a surge in customer demand.
She said: “We realised we had quite a few regular clients who we weren’t able to book in on the first day back, so we thought ‘Why don’t we open the first moment we can?’
“And then we’re fitting a lot of people in at dawn – a lot of 6am haircuts. Which is amazing, because people are going to have their hair cut and blowdried and then they can get on a Zoom call.
“The first day back is going to be double our best-ever day to date. I can’t believe we’re here.”
Client Amy Pallister enjoyed some of Secret Spa’s services during a home visit in Balham, south London.
Receiving the first hair cut of the day, she said she felt “amazing” after seven or eight months without one.
“I’m very impatient, so I didn’t want to wait,” she said, adding: “A bit of self-care and pampering definitely makes you feel better, so I’m really looking forward to getting back into the pub gardens and feeling a bit more like myself, rather than being cooped up indoors.
A trip to the pub was top of the agenda for customers of the UK’s biggest pub on Monday morning.
Cheers greeted the first pints of the day at Wetherspoon’s Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, Kent.
Pippa Ingram, 51, and Sue Bell, 55, were among a handful of people who braved the chilly seaside air to taste their first “proper” pint in months.
As their order arrived at the table, Ms Ingram celebrated getting a drink “from a proper pub”, adding after a couple of long sips: “Absolutely delicious. It’s not gonna last long at all! That is banging.”
In Coventry, one pub faces investigation by the city council after a long queue of people formed for its midnight reopening.
Footage shared on social media showed more than 100 waiting people waiting outside the Oak Inn, near the city’s university, after it advertised plans to open its large outdoor space
Images of crowds in the venue’s garden appeared to show people well spaced out and following the guidance of no more than six per table, but some said that social distancing seemed not to be enforced in the queue outside.
Owner Darren Lee said he believed the venue had worked within the rules.
According to combined data compiled by Altus Group, nearly 80,000 pub, restaurant and cafe premises are eligible to reopen under the relaxation of rules.
But the real estate adviser warned that it remains to be seen how many have actually been able to welcome customers back under the outdoors requirements.
The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that just 40% of licensed premises have the necessary space.
Altus Group also said that some 401,690 non-essential shop premises are now permitted to reopen.
Michelle Walton, owner of independent gift store Birds Yard in Sheffield, said the past year had “really hit me hard”, explaining she had faced “a big learning curve” to adapt her business to online sales.
But with in-store customers now able to return, she added: “People are going to have so many things going on today that all we can do is show them our faces, give them a smile, and welcome them back to the world.”
At the nearby Marmadukes café, manager Matt Andrews said it was “great” to welcome back customers to its outdoor space.
“Our first booking was at half past nine and we’ve really not stopped since then,” he said.
Meanwhile in Birmingham, early-morning shoppers formed a long line outside the city’s Primark clothing store – keen to get their first retail experience for many weeks.
Customers were also seen forming socially-distanced queues in Cardiff city centre.
The general manager of Hough End Leisure Centre in Withington, Manchester, said she had “not slept the last two nights” in anticipation of reopening.
Marika Smith said the swimming pool is “fully booked” and there has been a “big uptake” of new members.
It is the third time the leisure centre has reopened after being closed due to Government restrictions, but staff feel confident they can stay open safely and consistently.
“It’s also great for mental health as well,” said Ms Smith. “It is hugely important for gyms to be open because not only does it have great physical benefits, it helps people’s mental health as well.”