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‘We need people to see how safe it is’ - Mecca Bingo manager urges players to return

PUBLISHED: 17:47 30 September 2020 | UPDATED: 18:01 30 September 2020

Sue Daniels, left, and Debbie Jeffries play in the Mecca Bingo hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Sue Daniels, left, and Debbie Jeffries play in the Mecca Bingo hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2020

It’s a night out for a giggle with friends or can be a complete life changer. But because of Covid, one of the oldest forms of entertainment, bingo, is in danger of calling lights, not eyes, down for good. CAROLINE CULOT reports.

Julie Culley, mainstage caller at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJulie Culley, mainstage caller at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

They may be generations apart but for Bernice Sewell, Sandra Sadler and daughter Tracey, going to the bingo brings the family together.

The mother-in-law, mum and daughter play regularly, enjoying a meal and a drink as well – viewing the Mecca Bingo hall in Norwich’s Aylsham Road as their community hub.

And they insist even after all the years of playing, they still get excited when they’re told “eyes down” and the numbers are called.

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The dauber at work at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe dauber at work at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“I’ve never won anything big,” said Bernice Sewell, 75, a grandmother of two. The retired shoe factory worker, who lives close by, said: “I come with my family and it’s a good night out, I have a toasted sandwich and my family like the sausage and chips or fish and chips. It’s a safe environment and I still get excited when the numbers are called.”

Tracey Sadler said: “It’s very well organised and it’s a chance to relax and have a giggle. I still work, my job is in a supermarket. If you win, it’s an even better day out. We would really miss it if it wasn’t here.”

It comes as bingo halls have been hard hit in recent years by taxes, the ban on smoking and the rise of online gambling sites. And now coronavirus which is causing many of the weekday pensioner regulars to stay away.

General manager at Norwich’s Mecca, Janette McCracken, who’s worked for the firm for 30 years, said the game can change your life forever.

Tracey Sewell wins a game at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYTracey Sewell wins a game at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“In Norwich before Covid, in four months, we had two people win the top prize of £50,000,” she said. “They were both regulars and it was the same caller, they both got full houses. The money was in their bank accounts in a couple of days, it was great for the club but also for other customers as they realised it could have been them.”

Mrs McCracken, from Wymondham, has worked in Norwich for the past 11 years. “For me, I love the people, when we had to close because of coronavirus, I really missed talking to people and when we reopened, you noticed the noise, people who didn’t usually talk were chatting to each other.

“But people are wary of coming out and the longer they don’t, the more anxious they get. We need the regulars to return and for others to come and see how safe it is.”

Mrs McCracken said the venue can hold up to 1,400 people and pre Covid regularly saw 1,000 in but now the most she’s had is 200 one evening. The new 10pm curfew is also hitting the venue which used to offer a popular late night session until 10.30pm.

The digital way to play at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe digital way to play at the Mecca Bingo. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“Playing bingo is about being sociable but it is also about winning, your heart races when you are waiting for one number, even if you’re only winning £10 or £1,000, you still get that buzz.”


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