A joyful cry of “Blimey, are you still alive, John? I’m amazed!” greeted one man as he arrived at his local for the first time in 14 months.

“I am now,” the 71-year-old laughed, as he ordered a pint of Guinness.

John Hoult, a cancer survivor who has been shielding since the pandemic started, was thrilled to be back at The Little Plough in Doncaster, with his wife Linda, 62.

“I haven’t seen him this happy since the pandemic began,” said Linda. Their “little gem” of a local only opened for 13 weeks of the past 14 months.

Pubs, cafes and restaurants in England reopened indoors yesterday in the latest easing of lockdown restrictions.

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Managers Ruth and David of The Little Plough
Managers Ruth and David of The Little Plough

Among the new customers at the Plough were six friends who wanted a much needed pick-me-up as they were supposed to be relaxing in Benidorm.

“This is our first stop on a pub crawl,” sales manager Pete Hickman, 44, explained. “We’ve all booked the time off because we were supposed to be on holiday together for our mate’s 50th.

“It has been difficult because three of us have had Covid and it’s not nice.

“But I’ve been missing these lads and missing having a few beers with them.”

Jim Hall was happy to see his mates
Jim Hall was happy to see his mates

Driver Jim Hall, 66, wearing a T-shirt saying ‘It’s beer time’, said: “I didn’t find it easy to make friends until I started coming here 30 years ago. It’s brilliant to see everyone.”

Pub managers Ruth and David Wicks, wearing their face shields, were rushed off their feet as soon as the doors opened at 11am.

“We’ve missed our customers so much, they’re like our family,” said Ruth, 55.

The couple kept busy during lockdown by becoming unpaid carers for vulnerable regulars in the South Yorkshire town.

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“Some are living alone and aren’t able to get out so we’ve been shopping and cleaning for them,” explained Ruth.

Reflecting on the reopening, husband Dave, 57, added: “We’ve really missed
the locals.”

Former baker Tommy Milligan, 78, was delighted to be back. “It’s my first pint since the last lockdown because I don’t like drinking on my own at home,” he said.

But the most delighted to see the doors open was pub owner Nick Griffin, who fears he may have lost around £50,000 in revenue.

He said: “It’s spectacular to see the doors open and our customers coming back. At one point I didn’t think we were going to make it. Without Admiral Taverns reducing rent, we wouldn’t have.

“I was worried about whether the customers would come back but I’m chuffed to bits to see them here.”

Elsewhere, drinkers in Huddersfield only had to wait for the stroke of midnight to enjoy their first pint inside.

Ian Snowball, 61, from the Showtime bar, said: “It’s great to see everyone getting back to normal, with a smile on their faces and a drink in their hands. It’s nice to be inside and warm. I don’t have to have a hoodie or a coat on any more.”

Darren Lee, the owner of The Oak Inn in Coventry, said about 100 people had gathered for a drink after midnight.

He said the early opening had been “very well received”, adding his locals were “really glad to be back inside – they’re really up for it”.

Back at the Plough, long-time local Marion Hall, 66, summed up the day for many. “I just feel normal for the first time,” she said.