The 'light at the end of the tunnel' for Bury Market's defiant traders

Amid a humid late March afternoon, the cries of grocers, butchers and fishmongers ring out around Bury Market.

For hundreds of years, the din of stallholders hawking their finest goods has echoed along the bustling walkways here.

It is one of many charms that has made the market so beloved for generations.

A place steeped in ritual and tradition, it is a way of life for families in Bury and further afield.

Each week, thousands descend on the market to browse for bargains, shop for fresh produce, and enjoy a brew and a bite to eat at one of the many cafes.

But like so many cherished aspects of life, those traditions were disturbed by the pandemic.

The hustle and bustle and vibrant atmosphere that had long been the market's most defining and endearing features vanished almost overnight.

For hundreds of traders here, the last year has been a fight for survival.

As Paul Smedley rattles off the day's deals outside his fruit and vegetable stall, his voice reverberates off rows of drawn shutters.

Of the dozens of stalls in his block of the outdoor market, he is the only one trading today.

For Mr Smedley, 14 hour days are the norm, but this last year has been hard work even for him.

"It's been crazy," he said. "We've done well to stay open.

"It's been hard, but we had to keep going. You just have to get on with it, don't you?"

The announcement of the first national lockdown last March hit the market, which was voted Britain's favourite back in 2019, hard.

Stalls deemed non-essential were ordered to shut, while coach trips - a major source of Bury Market's custom - were stopped.

Mr Smedley was one of those allowed to continue trading, but the government's advice for people to 'stay at home' meant he had to adapt.

As the country was brought to a standstill, he set up a click and collect delivery service and used Facebook and Instagram to take orders from housebound customers.

"We lost a lot of business," he explained. "We used to serve restaurants, but they got wiped out.

"I could have shut the stall down and furloughed myself, but long-term I don't think it would have done the business any good.

"We've had a few grants that have helped to pay the rents."

Despite being tucked away on the market's western fringe, a steady stream of customers are passing through Mr Smedley's stall.

It is a change from the desolate scenes witnessed here throughout much of the last year.

There is still a long way to go, but a glimmer of hope is on the horizon.

From April 12, the market's 'non-essential' stalls will be allowed to reopen. It is hoped the relaxing of lockdown restrictions will bring more visitors and mark a gradual return to normality.

"We need the other stalls to open," said Mr Smedley.

"People want to go out again. The market is a day trip out for people.

"We used to get up to 20 coaches in the middle of summer. That's been a big miss.

"I hope they come back and it can go back to being as normal as it can be."

Source: Manchester Evening News