Some people have enjoyed the changes they made to outdoor areas during lockdown so much, that even with the return to some sort of normality, they don’t want to go out. Arlene Harris hears more
The recurring lockdowns over the past 16 months made it very difficult for people to socialise and unwind. But as we cautiously begin to return to a different sort of normality, some people plan to continue to stay within the confines of their own homes as the changes they made to see them through the pandemic have been such a success that they don’t have the same need to seek entertainment elsewhere.
One such person is Emma Garrett, who lives at The Temple outside Carryduff with her husband Ricky and their two sons Joshua, 11, and Myles, 8.
Having recently celebrated her 40th birthday and denied the chance to travel abroad to celebrate due to Covid restrictions, she decided to invest in a hot tub … and a home bar instead.
“The primary reason for doing this was so we could enjoy time with family and friends outdoors when the restrictions began to ease,” says Emma who holds a senior position in commercial property letting and business development.
“Like most people in Northern Ireland, we had bought an inflatable hot tub during the first lockdown and really enjoyed using it, so a built-in one within a covered pergola in the garden made more sense both practically and economically for longer term use.
“The bar we built in the corner was something we spotted on Pinterest and fitted into the space nicely so we can now use the space all year round, regardless of the weather - there is actually nothing nicer than sitting in the hot tub while rain is belting down on the roof.”
Emma and her family use the hot tub up to four times weekly and she says its installation was a great success.
“The part of the garden (where it is located) is a sun trap, so we use it to entertain friends and family most weekends – and we live outside as much as possible, especially at the moment when we are blessed with such beautiful warm weather,” she says.
“The project was a welcome distraction during lockdown as we had something to plan and look forward to while everything else around us was being cancelled or postponed – and it meant that I could celebrate my birthday safely with friends and family when hospitality venues were still closed.
“Working full time while home-schooling two children was a period I do not wish to repeat, but if it ever comes to that again, at least I have a little haven to escape to every once in a while.”
Helen Clark, lives in Balloo, Killinchy with her husband Phil. The communications associate has also transformed her garden, but instead of adding a hot tub, she just opted for an outdoor bar, which was fashioned from a donkey box.
“We built the Smoke Shack Sibin so we could safely socialise at home during the pandemic and the whole project took about a month,” she says.
“We replaced some of the wood on the walls but other than that, the rest of the structure was solid, and a lot of our interior materials are upcycled - the bar stools, chairs and shelving all came from friends and family who were happy to donate.
“Even the bar itself is made from the slats from one of my uncle’s old beds.
“It gets used day and night as everyone loves the opportunity to get together safely outdoors. The wood burning stove inside makes it cosy if the weather is poor, and when it’s fine everyone is outdoors chatting or watching sport and films on the big screen that’s been set up.
“We have a good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available so something for everyone and I love my juices and teas when I stop for a break during the day.”
Eileen Donaghey lives in Belfast with her husband and instead of creating a bar in her home, she has established herself as The Afternoon Tea Expert, hosting and making a social event out of what is often a harried affair, but traditionally was enjoyed, with ceremony, over a long period.
“I have a large collection of teaware including cups of every colour and I like to have a tiered stand (or two) on the table to make it more exciting,” she says. “Of course the tea set would take pride of place and is matched with a bouquet of flowers. Normally I opt for two types of tea, to give everyone a choice – so something traditional like an afternoon tea blend or Darjeeling.
“Coming into the summer, serving iced tea is a great way to quench everyone's thirst and I also serve a platter of sandwiches, fresh scones, and a cake – a Victoria sponge is a real crowd pleaser.
“Depending on how much time, I have, I either make it all myself or order some from the local bakery – although there is something to be said about scones fresh from the oven.
“Afternoon tea is a very pretty affair, so I use a lot of balloons to hide anything unsightly in the garden and sometimes bows to the back of the (dining room) chairs.
“A white linen tablecloth is an absolute must as it really elevates the scene and an easy way to create an atmosphere is to put on some light music in the background.
“Under restrictions, we only had our bubble, but normally I would invite family and friends to show off my latest baking creations.
“Before the pandemic, I was hosting luxury afternoon tea experiences in a five-star London hotel for tourists who wanted to learn more about the tradition – and hopefully, with the easing of restrictions, I will be able to re-start taking bookings later in the year.”
Kelli Roberts has always wanted a hot tub, but husband Steven was reluctant as the garden wasn’t level. However, as the couple, along with children Callum, 17, and Sophie, 13, didn’t go on holiday last year, they decided to use the extra resources to transform their outdoor space.
“I’ve found the last 14 months very stressful with working from home, worrying about Covid and balancing family life, so I really wanted a hot tub to relax and unwind in,” says Kelli who lives in Larne.
“We transformed our garden in March and Steven still wasn’t keen, so I went ahead and bought a hot tub anyway. It arrived on my birthday, which I took as a sign, and my friend helped me set it up during the Easter holidays.
“We couldn’t go on our usual holiday again this year due to continued travel restrictions, but the new garden space allowed us to spend quality family time in the comfort of our own home.
“During a normal working week, I switch it on on a Thursday night and enjoy it from Friday to Sunday evening. The model I have has LED lights, so it is lovely in the evening just before bed.
“Even though, selfishly, I prefer having it to myself, the whole family use it and I’ve particularly enjoyed it when taking annual leave from work.”
Even though the hospitality sector has now been open again for several weeks, Kelli, who is general manager of Larne’s Enterprise Centre in Carrickfergus, says that she and her family continue to relax and chill out at home, in the hot tub, rather than head into town.
“Even though places have continued to open up, we have enjoyed staying at home,” she says. “Also I have loved nothing more than a dip in the tub with a good book on a Friday night – it has become my ritual.
“I think Easter was a great time to get the tub as we will have the whole summer to enjoy it. Usually we really look forward to our family holiday - but I don’t mind not getting away this year.
“I’m so glad we invested in it, and we will continue to use it until October and maybe even longer.”