CHRIS Austin achieved his lifelong dream.

A qualified and experienced chef, the 42-year-old dad was relishing in his professional success as he ran his own thriving Carlisle restaurant where he had worked since the age of 23.

Then the pandemic struck.

Like thousands of other business owners, Chris was suddenly forced to close that business, Davids Restaurant, on Warwick Road, its trade mothballed by the government’s lockdown.

With most of his staff furloughed, Chris faced the prospect of living on the Government’s £600 per month allowance for business directors such as himself.

But thanks to his nephew, he found a financial lifeline - working as a ‘cleaning operative’ at the city’s Rickergate Magistrates’ Court.

For three months, Chris was on the court’s Covid-19 frontline, his days spent disinfecting doors, tables, the dock after contact with lawyers, defendants, or court staff.

As he prepares to return to running his reopened restaurant, Chris spoke of how his experience has left him with a new respect for the city’s courts - so much so that he has now formally applied to become a magistrate.

“My nephew Dan was cleaning a the court, but then he was called back to his job as a decorator,” explained Chris.

“I told him that I’d be happy to take on the job.

“So for three months, I was working at the courts. When you’re the director of a business, your director’s salary on furlough isn’t very much - literally £600 a month. So the extra income was very important to help me survive and just pay for everyday stuff.”

Chris did the job throughout May, June and July, earning a little over minimum wage. “It was a new experience for me but one I have wholeheartedly loved,” he said. “What I found interesting was the level of professionalism in there - and how nice everybody was.”

Chris was particularly impressed by District Judge Gerald Chalk.

“He was absolutely brilliant,” he said. “I was impressed by his manner with everybody - and his ability to judge people straight away; and I was also impressed by the magistrates, the legal advisors, the defence lawyers.

“Everybody was just so nice.”

He also learned how there are often deeply complex reasons behind crime - past trauma, mental health, and drugs issues. “It was just very interesting,” he said.

“Yet everybody is dealt with exactly the same. It’s not about being vindictive; it’s about trying to help people.”

Chris used the shutdown to refurbish his restaurant, which is to reopen it on Wednesday, August 5, bringing back all his staff. “The lockdown came out of nowhere: one minute there was a case of coronavirus in China; the next everybody had to close shut down.

“I was worried about the future of the restaurant; and worried about my staff.

“Thanks to the Government help, we’ve been able to move forward. And I’ve learned that there are always reason behind people’s actions; and things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem. You have to look for insights into why people have done what they’ve done.

“I’ve come away from the experience with something positive. I’ve put in an application and I’m looking forward to becoming a magistrate. I put 100 per cent into things - whether it’s cleaning door handles or running a restaurant.”