Postcard from Liverpool: ‘We’re facing a long, dark winter of cancellations ahead’

David Atkinson
·4-min read
Liverpool - ANDREA PISTOLESI
Liverpool - ANDREA PISTOLESI

There were celebrations across Liverpool last Friday as the city marked what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday with guided walks, live music and the unveiling of a new exhibition of unseen photographs at the Beatles Story Museum. But there’s little reason for celebration for the city’s tourism sector today. 

Boris Johnson last night announced that Liverpool is currently the only English city to be placed under tier-three restrictions from tomorrow according to the latest coronavirus guidance. That means that pubs and bars across the Liverpool City Region, including Sefton and The Wirral, will close, as will leisure centres and casinos, plus people should avoid staying overnight in the region. Restaurants will, however, remain open to 10pm for non-mixed households to eat out.

“The impact of tier three is devastating for the city,” says Chris Brown, Director of Marketing Liverpool. “Tourism has played a vital role in the resurgence of the city since it was the European Capital of Culture in 2008. The hospitality industry alone accounts for a value of £49bn, employing 57,000 jobs across the region.” 

But Liverpool hasn’t closed down the shutters. The word on the streets of the Cavern Quarter and the Albert Dock is that, while visitors should follow the guidelines responsibly, Liverpool still offers a superbly Scouse welcome to tourists. Only Mendips and 20 Forthlin Road, the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney respectively, have been temporarily closed to the public by the National Trust

The majority of attractions remain open otherwise with National Museums Liverpool currently opening its galleries from Wednesday to Sunday via online pre-bookings. The International Slavery Museum will continue to promote discussion to mark Black History Month throughout October and the retrospective exhibition of photography by Linda McCartney at the Walker Art Gallery, featuring candid images of the Fab Four, looks set to be extended until next year. “Museums and galleries are vital for health and wellbeing, plus they offer a place to escape,” says Janet Dugdale, Executive Director of Museums & Participation. “We all need that right now.”

“Liverpool has worked hard to make its attractions Covid secure. In fact, I took a coach group of seven from the Cotswolds around the city just yesterday, visiting the Cavern Club and the cathedrals,” says Liverpool Blue Badge Tour Guide, Paul Beesley. 

Paul normally guides around 40 visitor groups through his home city during a typical October. This month isn’t typical: he’s had two bookings. “I live and breathe showing off my city with pride to visitors. The current situation is devastating,” he adds, “but I’m sure Liverpool will bounce back — it always has.”

But there are black clouds hanging over the Three Graces, the historic group of buildings dominating the city’s Unesco-listed waterfront. International visitor numbers have been hit hard and the until-recently-buoyant cruise industry has hit the rocks: of 101 cruise line visits due this year, the final figure could be more like zero. The opening of the new Liverpool Cruise Terminal could now be pushed back beyond 2021. 

2 Blackburn Terrace
2 Blackburn Terrace

The new tier-three rules advise against both non-essential travel in and out of Liverpool but the failure to make it illegal has angered Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales. He subsequently threatened a travel ban to Wales from English Covid hotspots. This follows scenes of non-socially distanced hikers in the Snowdonia National Park over summer.

Liverpool hotel owners, meanwhile, have expressed their concerns that new rules could mean a long, grim winter of cancellations ahead. “We feel as if we’re suspended in mid-air, looking at 12 months without any guests,” says Sarah Whitter, proprietor of 2 Blackburn Terrace, an art-themed, boutique guesthouse in the city’s Georgian Quarter. 

Sarah took the difficult decision in March this year to temporarily close to guests and, given the changing regulations, currently has no plans to welcome them back before next spring. “The new normal will look very different, but we don’t know what the new normal is yet,” she adds.

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

At Strawberry Field, the former Salvation Army children’s home where the young John Lennon played in the garden as a child while living nearby, last Friday welcomed the arrival of the famous piano Lennon used to compose and record the song Imagine. The piano is on permanent loan to Strawberry Field from the estate of the late George Michael and now takes pride of place in the visitor exhibition. Strawberry Field has been open daily, except Mondays, since July with pre-booked time slots. 

“I think John Lennon would urge the people of Liverpool to unite and find strength in their shared history, working together to overcome this current period of adversity,” says Major Kathy Versfeld of The Salvation Army, based at Strawberry Field.

As Lennon sang: “I hope someday you will join us. And the world will be as one.” 

Imagine that.