THOSE returning to Barnsley town centre might have been greeted by an odd atmosphere as bars reopened for the first time since March - but the muted weekend has been hailed as a ‘significant milestone’ in the easing of lockdown conditions.

The town has been incredibly quiet for the three months since lockdown conditions were imposed, and this near-silence wasn’t exactly broken by a weekend some expected might be as raucous as scenes elsewhere in the country on what was dubbed ‘Super Saturday’.

Those who turned out in Barnsley were mostly well-behaved and respectful to bar staff, patrolling police officers and each other.

The onerousness of measures differed from bar to bar, with some such as the Joseph Bramah on Market Hill employing large screens that effectively turned tables into self-contained booths.

But most generally had hand sanitiser at their front doors - and dotted around the venue - and a one-way system making sure visitors crossed paths as little as possible, with staff talking customers through the rules as they entered.

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Some chose to operate on a booking-only system, while others took contact details to aid tracking and tracing, and several venues chose not to reopen at all as the risk was deemed too high.

“It was busier than I thought it would be, even though it was a bit quiet for a Saturday,” said Dave Clayton of the Soho Music Institute on Shambles Street.

“We had no hassle or problems all weekend. Fair play to the people of Barnsley - they came to have a decent day out, and they behaved.

“There seemed to be a very good rapport with the police. I think this weekend could be busier, you could tell people were reserving their judgment and seeing how it went.

“I think it’ll be a steady build-up, as people get a little bit more confident. There will still be people who are scared, which is fair enough, but in our experience we’ve seen nothing to give rise to any major concerns.”

Pavilion general manager Kay Tinkler said the fully-booked weekend had gone ‘more smoothly than expected’. The bar and restaurant moved seating and operated with table service, with kitchen staff holding a cook-off ahead of reopening to sharpen their skills.

“We anticipated one or two problems, but everything was quite steady,” added Kay.

“Our team is used to table service because we’ve done it at other places. I’ve heard others had to adapt to that. We’ve had good feedback and people seemed to be up for being out in a socially-distanced way.

“We only had a small proportion of walk-ins, so we’re expecting more this weekend.”

Some restrictions - a cap on the volume of music, and pubs being advised not to show live sport, to limit people speaking loudly and increasing the risk of transmission - were met with a mixed response from landlords, and meant a somewhat anxious weekend.

Paul McNicholas, who owns Annie Murray’s, 00 Bar and Hill 16, closed up early as he and his staff could see people were becoming drunk and at risk of flouting guidelines.

“It wasn’t exactly a normal atmosphere - music had to be played at a very low level, which was a downside for places that rely on music,” he told the Chronicle.

“I’m a big believer in atmosphere and we didn’t have that. I think a lot of people just came out with the intention of drinking a lot.

“We didn’t have any trouble as such, but when people have had two or three drinks it’s very difficult to tell them to make sure they’re social distancing. It’s human nature and we’re creatures of habit.

“Having said that, people did really enjoy it from what I’ve heard.

“We’ll open at the same time next week but with reduced hours. We have a duty to our staff, as well as our customers.”

Police carried out regular checks throughout the weekend, and made at least one arrest after a man was taken into custody for being drunk and disorderly in the Market Kitchen and later released.

Superintendent Paul McCurry, who oversaw the operation, called the weekend a ‘significant milestone’ in the easing of lockdown restrictions, but urged people to stay alert.

“I was really pleased to see the overwhelming majority of people behave responsibly, observe social distancing and comply with the measures that individual bars and restaurants had put in place,” he said.

“You can expect to see a much higher police presence over the next few weekends, but we are there to support you.”

Coun Tim Cheetham, cabinet spokesperson, thanked people for supporting local venues and said the altercation in the Market Kitchen was an ‘isolated incident’.

“While it’s important to support our fantastic venues across the borough, remember the virus is still out there, so please continue to be safe and sensible,” he added.

“We’re all working together to support our local economy and keep Barnsley moving.”