Carl Cockbill

The big day has finally arrived. After more than 100 days of closure betting shops in England will open their doors once again today – and I for one cannot wait.

To wind the clock back, it was December when we last welcomed customers into our shops which, like so many across the country, are a staple part of their communities.

From a personal perspective, this lockdown has been by far the most difficult. In the first one last spring, the temperatures were well above the seasonal average and it was a novelty to be on full pay while off work.

This time around has been a different story, with bitterly cold mornings and short, dark days. In addition, we have also been closed for two of the standout race meetings of the year, Cheltenham and last week's Aintree festival, with its showpiece race the Randox Grand National. I for one have sorely missed not being in the shop for both events. They are the pinnacle for customer interaction, heated debate and good fun, with both regular customers and once-a-year visitors trying their best to pick a winner.

On a positive note, I must say that Entain have once again gone above and beyond, with no colleague suffering a loss in pay, coupled with the provision of superb e-learning and excellent communication from regional management keeping our teams up to date on the latest developments and what we can expect when we re-open.

Thankfully, the vaccine rollout has exceeded all expectations while our doors have been closed. It’s also great to see the number of new Covid cases and death rates dwindling. Nevertheless, as always, the wellbeing and safety of our colleagues and customers is paramount, so our shops will again re-open as Covid-safe environments, with clear social distancing measures in place. The now-familiar sight of plexiglass screens and hand sanitisation stations will also be in place.

Our industry is of course opening under a number of additional restrictions, including limiting customer dwell time in shops and no TV screens showing live races. However, we hope that – as long as the good progress we’re making in the fight against Covid continues – we can look forward to re-opening ‘normally’ again from May 17.

I am confident that this will be the last full lockdown, and I for one know that my life will start to finally resemble normality when our doors finally re-open and the long overdue customer banter returns.

Despite us being closed for two major festivals, we do still have both the delayed European Championships and the Olympics to look forward to over the coming months. Can Gareth Southgate deliver us a trophy after 55 years of pain? I may be an eternal optimist, but even I'm not sure I can go out on a limb that far. What I do know though is that win, lose or draw during the Euros, it will be great to have the shops open again and our hearts being broken together as opposed to being apart in lockdown.

Carl Cockbill is a marketplace manager for Coral, and manages two shops in Sutton Coldfield and Tamworth.

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