THERE was an air of celebration and hope across Wantage and the surrounding area on Monday as the Government’s easing of lockdown restrictions took place.

The town welcomed back eager shoppers as non-essential shops – from New Look to Fat Face and Argos – were finally allowed to reopen, alongside outside hospitality, fitness centres, and close-contact services like hairdressers, nail salons and tattoo parlours.

Chris Tooley, landlord of the King’s Arms pub on Wallingford Street, revealed the spacious beer garden - which can fit up to 120 people - was packed on Monday

Over the last few months he has been working on refurbishing the garden, which he said has kept him ‘sane’ as he lives on his own.

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Reflecting on the first day of reopening, the landlord said: “It was phenomenal, every table was taken.

“I was a bit nervous before service started but as soon as we opened the doors and the first customers came in, we quickly got back into the swing of it.

“All the old regulars were back for a pint and you could see the garden was full of people in different age brackets.

Some people found it difficult to get a table outside

Some people found it difficult to get a table outside

“I do not understand why we cannot reopen the inside as well but at the moment I am just happy to be back working.

“I do feel sorry for our staff though as the temperature in the garden drops really quickly in the evening and that can make table service really difficult.”

The pub will also continue to operate on a ‘first come, first serve’ policy instead of taking bookings as Mr Tooley said it is much easier and avoids disappointing last-minute cancellations.

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But going to the pub was not the only priority for people, as many headed straight to the hairdressers.

Receptionist at Segais Hair & Beauty Kim Hollister revealed that at least 150 customers visited on Monday for their long-awaited hair and beauty appointments.

The branch on Grove Street is now fully booked until the beginning of May but there is a waiting list going in case of cancellations.

Queues were spotted outside clothing shops in the town centre

Queues were spotted outside clothing shops in the town centre

Ms Hollister commented on the reopening: “We were very, very busy but we are all so happy to be back.

“It was lovely to see our clients returning and to catch up with them as they are all like family.

“The atmosphere was great and people were not anxious to come in because of all the Covid-safe measures we put in place last year.

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“There were a few ladies who had to queue outside but all in all I think we managed it well.”

While the easing of lockdown restrictions was a welcomed return to normality for many businesses, for two shops, which opened for the first time on Monday, this was a baptism of fire.

The first is Fauxever Blooms & Bridal on Wallingford Street, which specialises in faux flowers as well as bridal wear, and the second is the Toy Planet shop on King’s Walk.