In pictures: Hundreds of shoppers celebrate the reopening of shops, pubs and restaurants in a sun-soaked Harborough town centre
Our reporter and photographer capture the spirit of a milestone moment as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic
Today (April 12) marked a significant day in the easing of lockdown restrictions, with many businesses reopening. Harborough Mail reporter Red Williams and photographer Andrew Carpenter spent time in the town to witness people pouring back into the shops, barbers, pubs and restaurants. Here is Red's report
Hundreds of jubilant shoppers poured back into sun-soaked Market Harborough town centre today (Monday) as the whole of England celebrated the next step in coming out of full lockdown.
Men, women, couples and families packed into Market Harborough – as well as into Lutterworth, Kibworth and Broughton Astley – as non-essential shops, hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons and gyms reopened for the first time in many months.
Brilliant spring sunshine lit up the Glorious Twelfth of April as our town centres across Harborough pulsed and throbbed with high-octane life, hustle and bustle again after the dark winter Covid-19 lockdown.
You could sink a pint, enjoy a coffee or tuck into a meal outside again, you could get your hair cut – and you could go and work out at your favourite gym.
And with households in the UK said to be sitting on a staggering £140 billion worth of savings the resounding rallying cry and clarion call from Harborough’s business community is loud and clear – please come out and spend, spend, spend!
Jim Gilbert, 72, who runs Frank Gilbert Housewares at the top of Market Harborough High Street, told the Harborough Mail minutes after reopening at 9am today: “I feel just as I did when I opened up again after the first lockdown last June – like a little boy going back to school!
“I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve opened up in 2021 after being shut since the end of December.
“It’s been very difficult at times.
“We obviously need to open up to generate custom and keep ticking over,” said Jim, who’s run his fabled traditional houseware and hardware shop for a stunning 51 years after his parents Frank and Grace set it up in 1948.
“But it will also be great to see the loyal army of customers we’ve built up here over the last seven decades.”
Revved-up Anthony Young, 42, and his team have decked out the front of their hair salon Moko on Church Street with balloons and bunting.
“This is such a huge day for us as well as for everybody here in Market Harborough.
“It’s incredible to think we’ve been closed nine months.
“I’ve been here 20 years and it’s been extremely tough,” admitted Anthony.
“We are a well-established business here.
“But it was getting close for us the longer this lockdown went on.
“We all need to get buzzing again – and get back to normal.
“I’m delighted to say we are fully booked for the next four weeks.
“I hope people continue to come back into town because Market Harborough is unique,” insisted Anthony.
“A lot of us have already been vaccinated and that should give people the confidence to leave their homes.
“We’ve very lucky to have so many fantastic independent shops – and we have to stand behind them.”
Jade Johnston, 40, of the Kitchen Range Cookshop on Church Street, said: “We’ve been running a click and collect service – and that’s been a striking success.
“But despite that it is so good to open our doors again.
“People are desperate to get back out and about shopping.
“There is no substitute for coming in, browsing, looking at our goods and buying here in the shop.
“I would appeal to people in Market Harborough and across the district to ‘shop local’,” said Jade.
“We’ve been here 27 years and we’d like to be here for another 27 – so please come along and support us!”
Overjoyed customers rolling up at the Sugar Loaf pub on the High Street had to complete Test and Trace forms before filing out into the beer garden and ordering from their table.
Manager Julie McKenzie said: “It’s great to be open again.
“We’ve been welcoming people since we opened at 9 this morning.
“This is an enormous first step towards getting back to normal.
“We have been shut since November so it’s just so good to see people heading back in again,” said Julie.
“The weather’s good and although it’s a chilly start people are more than happy to sit outside in the fresh air and sunshine.
“We’re expecting a busy weekend.
“And we’re so looking forward to seeing customers five deep at the bar inside on a Friday and Saturday night again.”
Sipping his coffee after devouring his full English breakfast, Michael Hargreaves, 68, said: “It’s been too long since I last popped in here!
“I’ve already been to the dentist’s, I’m getting my hair cut and then I’m zipping over to Leicester.
“I’m making the most of our first day of freedom!”
Nursing a pint of Abbot ale, Sugar Loaf regular Alan Gibson, 85, smiled: “I’ve been coming here since the pub opened back in about 1998 – and I just love it.
“I usually sit in the window at the front.
“I can’t do that yet but this is easily the next best thing,” said Alan, as he sat chatting to his daughter Tina Gibson, 49.
“It just feels so good to nip out and have a pint again – while seeing my daughter at the same time.
All smiles as she turned on to the busy High Street, Ann Charlton, 73, said: “It’s brilliant to see so many people walking around.
“Our amazing town centre in Market Harborough has been brought back to life.
“It’s been like a ghost town far too long.
“I’ve been very upset but I’m so excited today,” said Ann, of the town’s Southern Estate.
“Our town’s heart had gone – but now it’s beating again, it’s back.
“I can’t wait to get my hair cut.
“The spring’s here, the summer is on the way – and we don’t want any more coronavirus lockdowns.”
Linda Elcock, 65, who manages Age UK’s clothes store on Adam and Eve Street, said: “My deputy was here at 6.30am this morning starting to get ready for reopening.
“It’s been such a long drag this time around.
“We’ve already had quite a few customers in searching for cheery, colourful clothes for the summer.
“Our sister bookshop on the High Street is also back open.
“And we’re so happy to be back, we want lots of positivity and optimism.”
Jarrod Burke, 24, was celebrating opening his new Randalls American sweet shop on Adam and Eve Street for the first time today.
“I’ve only set up this move from our old unit on Church Square over the last few weeks so it’s thrilling.
“We’ve got the warehouse here, too, so it’s magic to get everything under one roof,” said Jarrod, who heads up thriving retailers’ network the Harbs Collective – which boasts about 70 members.
“It’s onwards and upwards for us now.
“We’ve adapted to the pandemic quickly, worked hard and gone down a storm online.
“So the Covid lockdowns have actually supercharged our business in a way.
“There have been winners and losers locally over the challenging last year or so,” said Jarrod.
“But it is so fantastic to get the energy and the people back into our town centre.
“A lot of us have a lot of money to spend so I’d say to people – please come and splash out here in Market Harborough.
“I’m confident that our resilient, formidable local economy will bounce back – and you can help to light the blue touchpaper.”
Clutching her packed bags on High Street, beaming Julie Marabella, 57, said: “I’m thrilled to be back out shopping again.
“I’ve been bowled over by the number of sales drawing us in.
“I’ve forked out £40 but I’m going home with about £80 worth of clothes!
“Our town centre’s jumping, it’s come back alive.”
Her friend Paul Devall, 61, said: “I’m heading straight back to Bruno’s Gym on Western Avenue to pump some iron.
“This is a very special day for all of us after all the lockdowns and restrictions we’ve had to endure.”
Gill Haynes, 59, who owns Jacks For Women clothes shop on Church Street, said: “We have been here right in the heart of Market Harborough for over 25 years.
“I am so excited to be reopening and to welcome back our much-cherished customers.
“And this is such a beautiful sunny day to kickstart the entire town as we all look forward to bringing on the summer and finally getting back to normal.”
A spokeswoman for Market Harborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce said: “We are looking forward to seeing our town active again after such a dormant period.
“Market Harborough is lucky to have a vibrant town with a number of independent businesses - and while a lot of them have been able to adapt it will be great to be able to visit them in person.
“We are hopeful with the successful vaccination programme as well as people sticking to the social distancing measures, that our own can stay open for good this time around!”
She added: “If any businesses are looking for advice or have struggled with the last year we have a variety of knowledge and experience within our membership which could prove useful going forward.”