LOCKDOWN restrictions are easing today with hotels, hospitality venues, cinemas and leisure centres preparing to welcome guests and customers.

Children will no longer need to wear masks in the classroom, groups of up to 30 can meet outside, weddings and funerals can go ahead with 30 people and foreign travel resumes to many destinations.

One Southampton restaurant says it is “excited” to open after “15 months of hell” since the business was taken over.

When the new owners of the Oxford Brasserie in Oxford Street took the business over in February last year, they were not expecting to have to close again just a month later.

But after the first lockdown was brought in by the Prime Minister in March last year, Paul Osborne and his business partner were forced to start letting staff go as they were forced to shut.

Although they were able to open on February 13, because they hadn’t been open long enough before the furlough scheme was started, they were not allowed to furlough their staff and were left, not only losing money as the restaurant sat empty, but also having to look for new staff before they reopened again.

Now though, over a year on, co-owner, Paul says he is “excited” to reopen for inside service as restrictions are eased further today, and is hoping that this time, they won’t have to shut again.

He said: “This time round it is the first time when we are probably going to get open and stay open for quite a while, if not continuously.

“It’s really exciting because with the lockdowns, we never really quite got going.

“Every time we thought we were going it stopped again. We’ve gone through 15 months of hell.”

After being able to apply for furlough in the second lockdown, the business was able to keep its staff on, but Paul said the business still had to pay national insurance on behalf of its staff, costing the owners around £2,000 a month to keep an empty restaurant.

In total, he claimed they have made a loss in the first year, paying in £40k of their own money just to keep the business going.

He added: “We could have thrown the towel in but instead we took the other route and decided, lets put the money in and we’re confident that it’s going to come good.”

Since being open for outside service, the restaurant has utilised a gazebo outside, giving its customers shelter from the weather and now with being able to open inside, this is expected to give a “huge boost” to its overall capacity. “We’re the epitome of the word brasserie. It’s a Mediterranean style restaurant but with French, English, Spanish, and a bit of Italian. We have a bit of everything and try to please everyone. “We’re generally trying to launch it and start again from next week.”