A new and unique accommodation business forum has been set up to help a community of Cumbrian businesses get ready and back on track as the covid-19 lockdown rules are relaxed this Saturday.

Around 30 businesses including caterers, hoteliers and pubs in Alston and surrounding areas in the North Pennines including Nenthead, Slaggyford and surrounding villages in the North Pennines have been having regular meetings since the end of May in preparation for the big re-start.

Headed up by Guy Harmer, owner of the Cumberland Inn pub and B&B in Townfoot, Alston, the group – called the Alston Accommodation Business Forum – has seen business owners in the area share their knowledge, skills and expertise in the hope that as many local companies can get themselves back to their feet.

Mr Harmer, who has 30-years experience in catering, said: “We set this up at the end of May to help businesses get themselves up and running as there is a lot of detail in the guidance and a lot of equipment and procedures that are totally new.

“We’ve got some local businesses who have only been set up for under a year and don’t have that experience or knowledge and what we have seen is the local community spirit really come together. Due to this area being a bit isolated anyway there is a strong support network for businesses in the Upper South Tyne Valley and this has been a real showcase of that.

“We’ve had special presentations like one on legionella where an expert gave his time up for free to the forum and we’ve been working with local environmental health officers in clarifying various areas of the guidance.

“We are all excited about the reopening, it feels like starting a whole new business, and it is good that we have got to the stage where we have the opportunity to reopen. I’m opening up from Monday myself for the Cumberland Inn.

“Unlike the Lakes our visitor base is dominated by 97 per cent from the UK so hopefully that means the recovery in this area should be strong and we’re already seeing a gradual increase in the number of bookings again.”

As part of the community spirit surrounding the forum, any business which is a part of it but isn’t in the Alston Moor Business Assocation is being offered free membership to join.

Sandra Mackenzie, who is chair of the Hive centre in Nenthead and owner of Green Ends Holiday Cottages, has already seen up increase in bookings but feels it will be an upward struggle for businesses.

She said: “Covid-19 has been such a big hit for the community and the local economy, there is a local young couple who have moved up here and are at risk of losing everything, the Miner Arms pub in Nenthead in closed, the Kirkstyle Inn in Slaggyford in closed, some of our local attractions such as the mine cant reopen while there is social distancing so it is difficult and for visitors it will be a harder sell. Luckily we’ve been here for six years as if we had just moved here, well it doesn’t bare thinking about.

“Hopefully most local attractions can alter things, at the Hive we’re making a number of changes and should have events such as wine tasting in July which will help with visitors but we need as much support as possible. Hopefully we can get a bit of a boost if a lot more people are looking at staycations rather than flying abroad.

“The new business forum for accommodation providers has been a great help as there are so many different things you have got to plan for, and we have to make sure everything is done right to give the public confidence and to make sure there are no new cases in this area as that would be the worst thing for everyone.

“We, like all businesses, have lost money and taken a financial hit because of the covid-19 lockdown but hopefully with a lot of support we can see the local economy recover as quick as possible”