STAFF and customers at Buzz Bingo at Basingstoke’s Leisure Park were very excited to see doors reopen to the public this morning (Monday, May 17).

Under new guidelines in force from today, people can meet indoors in groups of up to six people (or two households) and remaining leisure facilities including cinemas, museums, theatres and bingo halls have been allowed to reopen with capacity limits and safety measures.

Paula Joynson, general manager at Buzz Bingo Basingstoke, said: “We’re really excited. It’s been a long year, really. For the past 9 weeks we have been getting the club ready.

“People have had the vaccine as well and are a bit more happy to come out.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Paula Joynson, general manager at Buzz Bingo BasingstokePaula Joynson, general manager at Buzz Bingo Basingstoke

A number of coronavirus measures have been put in place including social distancing rules and hand-sanitising stations.

“It will work exactly the same as before, people can just turn up. New members can come as well, and their first visit is absolutely free," said Paula.

“You can come with friends, or two households can sit together as well.

"We are a massive community, like one big family.”

During the lockdowns, the team has been running a ‘Buzz Buddy’ system, where they have called and visited members of the bingo community to check on them and make sure they were ok.

“We have some people who are older and vulnerable and may not see anybody until they come here,” said Paula.

The reopening was marked with a cutting of the ribbon by regular player Sylvia Stanton from Hatch Warren.

The 62-year-old nurse said: “It’s good to be back! I’ve missed Bingo.

“I have been working all through lockdown and we weren’t able to take holidays, so now I’m looking forward to coming here and hopefully winning!”

The grandmother-of-five added: “My mother used to come here with my sister years ago, and it was her who introduced me. It’s like a little club, people come on different days and it’s friendly and sociable.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Sylvia Stanton, 62 from Winklebury, cut the ribbonSylvia Stanton, 62 from Winklebury, cut the ribbon

Inside, keen regulars enjoyed a complimentary bacon role with their first games back.

Jane Twitchen, 65, said she’s “missed it tremendously”.

She continued: “I thoroughly enjoy it. I’ve been coming since it opened in 2000, and when I first came I didn’t really know anybody but now there’s a lot of people that I know here. It’s nice because if you come on your own, someone will talk to you.”

The dinner lady from Winklebury says she brings her 73-year-old friend with her on weekends and it's a good place to get out of the house.

“I’m glad to be back, it’s nice to get out rather than staring at the same four walls indoors. You can socialise people, and get something to eat or drink. The staff are brilliant, they can’t do enough for you.”

Basingstoke Gazette: 65-year-old Jane Twitchen, a dinner lady from Winklebury, said she has 'missed it tremendously'65-year-old Jane Twitchen, a dinner lady from Winklebury, said she has 'missed it tremendously'

Meanwhile, Anora from Chineham takes the bus to the bingo and says it’s been a “lifeline” for her since she moved to the area four years ago.

“I’m so happy, it’s my lifeline,” she said.

“I have a disabled member of the family who I care for, and it’s the only time when I can get out and just be myself and meet people. Once a week it’s a few hours out and I get a break.”

Anora says she misses the shuttle bus, which was axed by the council last month, but will take a longer route so that she doesn’t miss out on bingo.

Speaking about the past year, the grandmother-of-two, who is originally from Cork in Ireland, said: “It frightened the life out of me. The first lockdown I didn’t mind, because it was Spring and Summer and I spent most of the time in the garden, but this time it was Winter, miserable, and I found it really really hard.”

She added: “I’m scared of the virus, but there’s plenty of space here, you’re spaced out.

“It’s not a gambling thing for me, it’s to see my friends here.”