Bedford Wetherspoons under fire (again) for lack of social distancing in queue

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Spot the difference. Two photos taken almost a month apart show no change in social distancing outside the Bedford Wetherspoons pub 'The Pilgrims Progress'. The picture on the left was taken by @kevin27677521 on 15 August, the right hand picture was taken on 12 September by Nigel Smith.
Spot the difference. Two photos taken almost a month apart show no change in social distancing outside the Bedford Wetherspoons pub 'The Pilgrims Progress'. The picture on the left was taken by @kevin27677521 on 15 August, the right hand picture was taken on 12 September by Nigel Smith.

Bedford’s Wetherspoons pub, The Pilgrim’s Progress, has come under fire again after another photo has emerged showing a lack of social distancing in people queuing up outside.

The picture sent to us by one of our readers is almost identical to one we published a month ago, showing groups of strangers standing close to one another as they queued to get into the premises.

At the time of the first photo (15 August), a spokesperson for Wetherspoons said: “staff regularly patrol the queues to the pub and remind people to socially distance.”

But looking at the second photo, taken this weekend (12 September), this appears not to be happening.

Read: Council issues social distancing reminder in response to Bedford pub queue

The news comes as Wetherspoons revealed yesterday (Monday) that 66 staff members across their chain have tested positive for coronavirus.

Wetherspoons say they have not been made aware of any reported cases of Covid-19 amongst staff at the Pilgrim’s Progress in Bedford.

Council “will involve police”

Bedford Borough Council have repeatedly issued warnings that they would involve police if businesses consistently failed to adhere to the Government’s social distancing guidelines.

They reiterated this message this weekend saying businesses must have “the appropriate measures in place to keep their customers and the wider population safe.”

However, Wetherspoons’ head office say they are “not aware of any concerns being raised by the local health authorities about this issue…”

A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson disagreed, saying that council officers “have been out and provided advice to this premises previously.”

They have confirmed that they will formally follow up this more recent incident again this week.

“Officers will continue to monitor queues in the town centre this weekend [and] will be advising businesses where there appears to be a problem, taking enforcement action where necessary,” said the spokesperson.

Queues of people are still not socially distancing outside the Wetherspoons' Pub, The Pilgrims Progress. Image: Nigel Smith (12 September 2020)
Queues of people are still not socially distancing outside the Wetherspoons’ Pub, The Pilgrims Progress. Image: Nigel Smith (12 September 2020)

The Council has the power to close businesses where there is evidence that there is a threat to public health.

Sue Blackman runs a free house, The Cock at Pavenham. She says all businesses must work together to prevent a second lockdown, or some could close permanently.

“Independent pubs are working so hard to keep our customers and team members safe…

“[not following guidelines] puts customers in danger but more importantly those customers’ older relatives and could move us towards another lockdown, which may result in more establishments closing entirely.”

People urged to report businesses “not following guidelines”

Chris Chisholm, Head Brewer at Marston’s Eagle Brewery, has also called for customers to only support pubs that are following guidelines.

“Go to the pubs that are making sure they are adhering to the guidelines because at the end of the day, what we don’t want is a second spike,’ he said.

Peter Wells, CEO at Wells & Co agrees: “From July 4th when most of our pubs reopened, they have had clear policies on customer flow, obsessive cleanliness and clear space for everyone to enjoy their pub experience.

“We’re actively working with our Pub Partners to ensure that every pub can safely implement the new Rule of Six.”

Pictures, like this one taken outside the Pilgrim's Progress pub in Bedford Town Centre, have forced the council to issue a reminder of social distancing guidelines. Image: @kevin27677521/Twitter
Pictures, like this one taken outside the Pilgrim’s Progress pub in Bedford Town Centre on 15 August 2020, have forced the council to issue a reminder of social distancing guidelines. Image: @kevin27677521/Twitter

Mayor Dave Hodgson added: “We know that the majority of businesses and customers locally are playing by the rules and doing their part to keep themselves and our communities safe.

“But, where this isn’t happening, the Council will take action to ensure that businesses are aware of what they need to do, and ultimately if we have to, we will close businesses down until they can show that they will operate in a way that is COVID-secure.

People can report businesses that they believe are not following guidelines via business@bedford.gov.uk so they can investigate.

“The onus is on both businesses and their customers to behave responsibly, follow the rules, help us to avoid a local lockdown, and ultimately keep people safe,” said the Mayor.

“Queue dispersed”

We contacted Wetherspoons about the queues and the images. They said that reduced capacity inside the pub “can lead to queuing”.

The spokesperson said that an area manager also visited the pub on Saturday night and after “discussions with the door team about the queue”, the queue was dispersed.

Wetherspoons say they also place markings in areas where customers are queuing to indicate where they should stand to maintain social distancing.

The spokesperson added: “we will make the team aware of these observations with regard to the queue management at the Pilgrim’s Progress to see if additional measures are required to control customers queueing outside the pub.

“We will also ensure that the pub is revisited, particularly during busy periods, to double-check that the queue is being managed correctly.

“Door staff have also been instructed to turn customers away when the queue is full (i.e. when the length of the queue reaches the width of the external pub frontage).

“Customers who refuse to comply with social distancing instructions will not be permitted entry to the pub.”

Government guidelines state that if a business wishes to open at this time, they must:

  • Make sure extra cleaning is taking place, particularly in high contact areas and high-use items, and in between visitors
  • Provide hand sanitiser at key locations, such as entrances and exits
  • Have measures that make it easy for groups to be socially distanced whilst in their premises such as making sure everyone is seated and provide table service
  • The layout of seating and tables must make sure social distancing is maintained between groups
  • Manage outside queues to make sure they do not cause a risk to individuals, other businesses or additional security risks
  • They must collect visitor and customer information such as the name, contact phone number, date and time of their visit

With data collection, records must be kept for 21 days to support the track and trace process. This data collection will become a mandatory requirement from 18 September.

Loud background music, communal dancing, group singing or dancing is also not allowed, so as to discourage behaviours that may increase risk of infection.

Wetherspoons’ spokesperson added that they operate “comprehensive hygiene practices in all its pubs”, hand sanitisers have also been installed.

“While it is not possible to completely eliminate risk, a combination of strict hygiene and strict social distancing measures helps to minimise the risk,” they said.

Cllr Louise Jackson
Cllr Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for health and wellbeing at Bedford Borough Council

Local cases may be on the rise

Bedford Borough Council also said yesterday that local cases may once again be on the rise.

However when pressed for evidence of this, they said this warning is based on concerns over a national rise.

Late last week, the council released local figures showing there had actually been a two-point drop in cases per 100,000 people over the previous seven days from 16.7 to 14.4 in the Borough.

Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for health and wellbeing at Bedford Borough Council said: “Cases of COVID-19 are rising across the country and Bedford Borough is no exception.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has worked really hard to stick to the advice. We need everyone to work together to keep our families and our communities safe.”

Coronavirus symptoms to look for are:

  •  a high temperature
  • a new continuous cough
  • a change in your sense of smell or taste

If you have any one of those symptoms, the advice is to not leave the house at all, book a test and self-isolate for 10 days or until your test result gives you the all clear.

If you have problems booking, you are urged to keep trying if you have problems booking, as new slots will become available.

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