As the country teeters on the brink of a second full lockdown and uncertainty creeps once more into the Bingo world, BingoDaily got the chance to exclusively sit down with David Williams, Rank Group's Director of Public Affairs and discuss all things bingo with the owners of Mecca Bingo.
What is the current situation regarding Mecca bingo club openings?
We’re delighted to have been able to open  of our  Mecca venues across the UK and have been planning to open the remainder as soon as possible, taking into account various local issues, not least demand-side issues in the light of the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
With Buzz closing 25 bingo halls, will we see any Mecca bingo halls close?
We can sadly confirm that Mecca Bingo Glasgow Rutherglen will be closing it’s doors for good. It is with a heavy heart that the decision has been made not to reopen this club as,
due to the impact of Covid on trading, opening is unfortunately no longer viable in this particular location. We would be delighted to welcome guests to our nearby Mecca Bingo Drumchapel, Glasgow Forge, Glasgow Quay, Paisley and Hamilton clubs, which remain open for customers to enjoy our fun and entertaining bingo offering.
At this stage we are hoping to avoid closing any more venues. We remain committed to offering as many customers as possible a first-rate bingo experience in as many venues as possible and we are working hard to ensure we emerge from the pandemic as best we can.
Since reopening, John O’Reilly said that Mecca Bingo has seen the number of customers aged 70 and over drop by 60%, do you think this is a long term trend or purely down to the pandemic?
It is very clear that many of the social and demand-side impacts of the pandemic are being felt most deeply by the older members of our society. Bingo is not immune to this nationwide trend and it will take time to recover. We have gone to significant lengths in our venues to help make all our customers feel very safe and we have been broadly delighted by the customer reaction to the extra measures that we have in place. We have changed the customer proposition in order to appeal to a younger demographic and are pleased with the early results.
Could UK bingo halls be a thing of the past in an elongated pandemic and another lockdown?
Lockdowns and restrictions have a direct impact on demand-side levels and, of course, wider consumer confidence. We are certainly not alone in feeling the impact of that, but we are confident that the appeal of bingo, in clubs, has an enduring appeal which will survive far longer than the virus. When we all emerge from the impacts of the virus we think there is going to be a heightened premium on the notion of community entertainment and we need to make sure we are well-positioned to take advantage of that movement. Customers may be more choosy in how they deploy their leisure spend but that is a challenge that we will relish rising to.
During the lockdown Mecca Bingo was incredibly proactive in charitable causes, please expand on the amazing achievements (Swansea 25k meals etc) during the lockdown and why giving back was so important to Mecca
Throughout lockdown, our incredible teams across the country worked tirelessly to spread the Mecca community joy and love and show support for both the hard-working frontline key workers, as well as our amazing customers in a number of ways.
From partnering with Blue Light to provide free lunches for Blue Light card holders, to teaming up with YourParkingSpace and JustPark to offer free parking for NHS workers, to preparing hundreds of meals a week in our kitchens – we're immensely proud of what we achieved.
Many of our clubs also took it upon themselves to call their customers for catch up chats during lockdown, especially those who lived alone, and clubs such as Oldbury delivered free chocolate to the doorsteps of customers to lift spirits.
Giving back is so important to Mecca because we value our community and the Mecca family above all else, and with the incredible work that frontline workers had put in across lockdown it only felt right that we repay them in whatever way we could. Mecca is also a partner to Carer's Trust, a charity that supports our beloved carers.
What has been the response to the unsung hero and Mecca Dream Come True campaigns?
It’s been fantastic – there are so many incredible entries and stories – there have been tears watching the videos. It’s going to be a tough decision judging the winner.
We really wanted to recognise just how many amazing people there are within our community and beyond – Unsung Hero was inspired by a customer story during lockdown, so we set about finding the most deserving people across the UK. We love working with Claire Sweeney and as part of our Mecca Dream Come True campaign, she’ll be rewarding the winner with a home makeover worth £20,000. Telling people’s stories and changing someone’s life like this is really special.
What can fans of Mecca Bingo online and offline expect in the near future
For our Retail customers, we have extended our playing times and have some new hourly Popingo sessions, we have a ‘Mecca Cares’ session at the beginning of the day for those customers who want to ease gently back into bingo – 6 games for £2.50 with a free tea or coffee. Since reopening our customers have won over £10 million and we are proud to have over 20,000 extra winners every week. We’re excited to be launching some exclusive new events, a new food and drink offer and live sports at selected clubs as part of a new Mecca Local brand.
We’ve been blown away with the engagement from players with Mecca Dream Come True both online and in Club and in the coming weeks we’re looking to keep that momentum with the roll out of some fantastic promotions which will deliver even more winners, more money can’t buy prizes, a fantastic new product and a brand new look and feel across the site. 2021 is our 60th year so look out for some amazing events across the UK and online.
The BingoDaily team would like to thanks David and Mecca for their time and insights.