It is nearly three weeks since bingo halls reopened in the UK. There are still a few bingo venues to be reopened and sadly quite a few more that didn't reopen at all. The coronavirus pandemic meant bingo halls closed for much of 2020 and most of 2021, and the UK lost somewhere around 25% of its bingo venues in a uniquely difficult period for the UK bingo industry.
After Buzz Bingo clubs were sold and Mecca closing some high profile venues, there were real concerns over the future of the British bingo scene. Clubs located in older buildings that once housed cinemas and theatres have become particularly at risk due to safety measures and limited capacity restrictions.
However, all is not lost The reaction by the UK bingo community during the coronavirus lockdowns showed the strength, charity and togetherness that bingo brings. Whether it was games of street bingo, balcony bingo, car park bingo or zoom bingo, the Bingo loving Brits on both sides of the fence – players and club/events owners demonstrated that bingo is and will always be at the heart of a community.
Despite clubs being closed, the big retail bingo chains and their staff threw themselves into keeping the community connected and looked after. Kitchens were turned over to feed the homeless, care packages and hampers delivered, whilst staff at the front line of fighting the pandemic were not forgotten with free parking and shows at clubs.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds were raised in the endless online bingo sessions once the weather got too bad for games of socially distanced street bingo. It was really was the Dunkirk spirit but with little balls not little boats.
Speaking of online, as online bingo rose in popularity during the lockdowns, a raft of new bingo sites popped up whilst other sites run free games promotions with the aim of keeping the older people connected. And that is it, Bingo is more than just a game it is about staying connected with a like-minded community where you can have a bit of fun and even win a bit of money.
In the UK, bingo is classed as gambling both online and in a live venue when played for money and is regulated by the UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission). However, what we have seen bingo clubs were closed and then reopened shows that bingo is not just about winning money or playing the game, but a whole lot more.
Since bingo clubs reopened, BingoDaily has followed events closely and spoken to club managers and the people behind the scenes. Mecca reported a bumper reopening and clubs up and down the country reported similar success (and relief) stories. People have flocked back to their local bingo clubs, even queueing hours before doors were flung open in the case of Mecca Bingo Beeston. Encouragingly or unsurprisingly, the older folks have not stayed away. Regular customers are returning along with a new generation of bingo goers. Older folk, far from being perturbed over the pandemic, have returned in droves.
Jackpot Bingo West Belfast
In a BBC report, dabbers at the Jackpot Bingo in west Belfast said it is ‘like a dream' to be back. Sharon Lindsey, one dedicated dabber said:
“It was like a dream come true,”
“I couldn't wait until 6pm when the doors opened, even though the bingo doesn't start until 8pm.”
Ciaran Gallagher who is the manager of the club said of the players:
“Some of them live by themselves and haven't seen anybody for the past five months,”
“I have been here 12 years so some of my friends are the pensioners and it is good to see them back again as well as knowing that they are well and safe.”
Carlton Bingo Buckie
Meanwhile, at Carlton Bingo in Buckie, staff and customers at Carlton Bingo in Buckie are “fairly chuffed” to be back after its first week open in 2021.
Amanda Bush, team manager at Carlton Bingo, said:
“It has been fantastic – we are fairly chuffed to be back.
“It's been a long year and you get attached to your customers, especially here in Buckie where we are like a wee family and know everybody coming in.”
“We got a brief spell open in October, but it has been hard for the staff living on 80 per cent of their wage.”
“We had a really good attendance for the first night open, well above our expectations. The staff have a really good rapport with the customers so they were all glad to see each other again.”
“Some of the customers were even coming in with chocolates and sweeties for us!”
Merkur Bingo Lowestoft
The former Beacon Bingo Loughborough had Waveney MP Peter Aldous sharpen up his ‘bingo lingo' as he called the numbers during a charity game in the reopening week.
Club operations manager Tracy Hayward, who has worked at the bingo venue for more than 20 years, said:
“We just want to highlight to the government that is not all about gambling – with bingo it is also about socialising.
“People come in and make new friends, we are a bingo family.”
And that is just it, there is a definite and active UK bingo family that looks out for each other, cares for each other and connect together – all over a game (or two) of bingo.
Britain needs Bingo and when Bingo needs Britains, we are there, dabber and a cup of tea at the ready.
In the UK, Bingo is more than just a game. It is life.