IT WAS a slow but steady return for East Oxford's pubs and restaurants this weekend with many residents coming out specifically to support their local.

Big Society operations manager Tim Fitzgibbon said Cowley Road had been quieter than the city centre but '90 per cent' of customers had embraced the new rules.

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He said: "I never expected it to be crazy like in other cities."


Big Society

One of the places punters did flock on Saturday was The Cowley Retreat, filled with a mix of pre-booked groups and a few who had decided on the day to stop inside.

Dining manager Javi Dabrio said: “It seems to be working really well so far. We’ve been fully booked since last week and people seem very aware of social distancing. The only difficult thing is everyone knows everyone on Cowley Road so it’s just reminding the groups to stay separate.”

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Among those inside were Oxford Brookes students Hannah Cheese, Felicity Elliott and Jack Giles who said they ‘really missed’ the atmosphere of meeting friends in the pub and set off along Cowley Road on Saturday until they found one open.

The students graduated this summer but were unable to have a proper celebration due to lockdown and only have a few weeks until their leases run out.

Miss Elliott, aged 23, said: "We've missed the pub so much. A pint just tastes better in the pub."


Hannah Cheese, Felicity Elliott and Jack Giles at The Cowley Retreat

Outside in one of Cowley Retreat's covered booths were 'the four pub musketeers' – Ellie Burke, 31, Emma Devlin, 25, Christina Jones, 27, and Kim Veness, 23.

Miss Jones said the group had been 'desperate for a pint' but added: "We're staying aware of social distancing. The new safety measures are really good.We're not going to be stupid."

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The women planned to make a day of visiting pubs, next heading to Abingdon and a trip to the Nag's Head.

A lot of people who came out on Saturday said they wanted to support their local pub. That was the case for Melissa Bacon who stopped for some food at the Magdalen Arms with dog Cosmos.

The 37-year-old said: “I wasn’t going to go to the pub today but then when we passed and saw it was open decided to support our local. I think there’s trust there when it’s a pub you know and knowing what they have been through.”


Melissa Bacon and dog Cosmos

At East Oxford’s The Rusty Bicycle general manager Dominic Simon was stood outside patiently explaining the new rules to returning customers, who now have to scan a code on their phone and enter their details for the Government's track and trace programme before going inside.

He said: “It’s been pretty slow, we’ll have to see what happens later.


The Rusty Bicycle

"Reopening was a financial necessity and we’re just trying to make it work as well as possible.

"We do have a lot of regulars who have been supporting us by buying takeaways and donating to our Crowdfunder.”


New outdoor beer garden at The Anchor

Many pubs have been getting creative to make the most of reopening, including Jericho pub The Anchor.

Co-owner Justine Rosser said: "Everybody seemed very happy and our huge new terrace, converted from the car park, meant people could spread out and the atmosphere was very relaxed."