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Organiser defends biker meet-ups at Bonny Cravat pub in Woodchurch near Ashford

The organiser of a popular biker meet-up has defended the weekly sessions amid controversy.

Each Thursday more than 100 bikers descend on the Bonny Cravat pub in Woodchurch near Ashford , using the beer garden to chat with fellow enthusiasts.

Last night's meet-up at the Bonny Cravat in Woodchurch saw more than 100 enthusiasts visit
Last night's meet-up at the Bonny Cravat in Woodchurch saw more than 100 enthusiasts visit

The gatherings are organised by Steve Parish, who started them after being concerned for the sustainability of his local.

He said: "It started nine weeks ago when the restrictions were eased enough to make it safe for pubs to re-open, and the Bonny is my local.

"The landlord and lady were somewhat depressed because it was a weekend and there were about three or four people in.

"The demographic in the village is mostly older people and they didn't want to be flocking back - it was a difficult time for them as the brewery's and government's financial support ended and the bills came in."

The 55 year-old then suggested inviting bikers to the venue to help the pub's coffers, and within the first couple of outdoor outings 70 bikers were coming to the nights.

A picture from last week's gathering shows how consistently popular it is (42214954)
A picture from last week's gathering shows how consistently popular it is (42214954)

He noted: "One comment from the pub afterwards that made me realise how important the gatherings were was when they said "We can put fuel in the car now."

"It really shows where they were and how much the support is needed."

The meet-ups have since been posted on biking groups and now attracts 150 to 170 bikes over the course of each Thursday, with money raised throughout for Woodchurch organisations like the church, scout groups and school.

Last week, £152 was raised with the beneficiary still to be decided.

Self-employed Mr Parish highlighted the methods being used to encourage Covid-compliance, a key issue among detractors.

Mr Parish says there are a number of social distancing measure in place
Mr Parish says there are a number of social distancing measure in place

He said: "It's just a bunch of people getting together in a beer garden, admiring people's bikes and having a catch-up.

"We've always had measures in place for social distancing, including barriers to make it a one-way entry system and rules for toilet use.

"We've tried to maintain tables of six, spread two-metres apart.

"We're doing everything legally and as safely as possible, we've had every regulatory body - the council, noise abatement, covid compliance, the police and brewery - examine what we're doing and they've all said it'sperfectly fine how it is.

"We're not out to cause an argument, we have respect for others' viewpoints and we ask to do the same with ours."

Last night's event was the ninth to take place since the pubs re-opened following lockdown
Last night's event was the ninth to take place since the pubs re-opened following lockdown

Despite these assurances, some are still concerned at the gathering of such a large group during a global pandemic.

One Facebook user said: "It’s amazing how you can all think it’s nothing. If there was a war on and bombs falling you would stay in a stinky shelter like your grandparents did but because you cannot see the enemy you think it’s safe.

"Well go on with your lives but when you get infected or infect someone in your family, then see how you will feel.

"How selfish can you be. You might not care what happens to you but remember you are the cause of spreading it to someone who is vulnerable and will die because of your recklessness."

A lot of support was given to the bikers, including some suggesting it is no worse than the flu and that people can make up their own minds about the coronavirus.

The weekly gatherings are expected to run until winter comes
The weekly gatherings are expected to run until winter comes

An opposing view was offered by a commenter writing: "Having had Covid-19 I can assure you that the symptoms are absolutely nothing like the flu.

"I was fortunate enough not to have to go to hospital but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Almost six months since I had it I still feel some of its after-effects."

Other critics have highlighted that from Monday, only six people will be allowed to meet indoors or outdoors.

The meet-ups are hoped to continue for a few more weeks until winter weather sets in.

Mr Parish noted that he himself has a lung condition and states: "I am the last person who wants to be exposed to Covid.

"That said, we're not people's parents and if they want to stand closer we can't stop them.

"We do advise them how to stay safe but if it's a shop or pub where people are standing closer, there's not much we can do to force them."

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