Elmhurst Windows.

Discover how four essential local businesses have kept their doors open during lockdown to serve their community through thick and thin.

Kevin Winch, franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care

Our carers have been out there like lionesses, keeping a promise to look after hundreds of people across Greater Manchester in their own homes, and I couldn’t be more pleased with them.

It has been tough, there have been plenty of tears shed over the past few months as patients we’ve been looking after for years have unfortunately passed away, while an awful lot of our caregivers have also caught COVID from the clients they’ve nursed.

It’s been a dreadful year, but they’ve kept going, receiving glowing references from the families of clients they have helped keep out of hospital. For us, it’s not about the money, it’s when someone writes a letter that says: ‘my mother could not have had any better care in her final years.’

I believe the nature of care is going to change after this, because people don’t want to go into care homes. They’ve heard the risks on the news and they’re frightened. We’ve always looked after people with highly infectious diseases from MRSA to flu in their own homes, and we’ve never had a problem with infection control – and COVID has been no different.

Many of our carers have placed themselves in strict isolation away from family and friends, because we know just how vital it is to our clients. One of our clients was discharged from hospital in a very weak condition in June last year, so one of our caregivers practically moved in with her. She’s now made a full recovery, and you’ll see her happily sitting on her doorstep smoking a fag. You can’t stop her smoking at 90!

We’ve got ongoing demand for our services – my main challenge is ensuring when a new client approaches us, we have the right staff with the right level of skill to look after them in the long term. I have around 75 caregivers on the books, with a view to recruiting another 20 to 30 over the next six months. But in these in these conditions, it’s difficult to train them to the standards we require.

Our caregivers don’t wear any uniforms, so people don’t know they’re keyworkers. However during the Clap for Carers season, the residents of one Prestwich street worked out that one of my girls was looking after their elderly neighbour. She had slipped in to make his tea and put him to bed and when she came out, the whole road was there to applaud her. She was absolutely made-up – they don’t know how much that boosted her confidence.

Richard Wertheimer, business development manager at Dennis Gore Pharmacy

The whole team has worked incredibly hard – it’s been remarkable. Some staff were a bit hesitant at first, especially those who had to get the metro to work, so we had to be cautious. But we knew the general public needed us and we’ve done as much as we can to serve them, while keeping ourselves protected. For staff members with families, it was tough coming home to their families after working with ill people. Everybody was nervous, but we all got our jabs last month, which was a huge relief.

While the staff have been amazing, we must also thank the customers for being understanding and patient. For us all to remain safe, we only allowed two customers at a time into the store, so when the virus was at its peak, there was a queue outside like The Haçienda, which was fine when the weather was good!

The silver lining of the pandemic was that people got to know their neighbours and we developed a real community spirit. I’m part of a local Whatsapp group, and some of my neighbours who were self-isolating couldn’t see their parents, so I was bringing them vitamins, supplements and paracetamol.

There was a huge push for home delivery, and we had to take on extra drivers to help us cope with demand. Those who couldn’t get out would call Dennis and he’d offer them free advice on the products they needed to get better. Lately he’s been working until 10 o’clock at night.

Some products, such as PPE and thermometers were like gold dust. But as we’ve been in the trade so long, we had the contacts to be able to source the hard-to-find items, and when local charities desperately needed gloves and masks, we were able to donate them.

Here at the pharmacy, it feels like it’s been ‘us against the pandemic’, and in true wartime spirit, we’ve been here on the front line helping the community.

Stewart Finney, owner of PMB Car Care Centre

The biggest problem that we encountered was a decision by government to grant a six-month extension to MOTs. With that test being imperative to the safety of road users, we were somewhat perplexed. As key workers, our doors stayed open to assist customers, but the industry was decimated. People fell behind with maintaining their vehicles. Their cars fell into disrepair and prices of tyres and car parts throughout the industry started to creep up. We tried to warn clients. But now people are being hit with invoices for work, which could have been remedied more cost-effectively six months ago. It’s like putting off a root canal only to have your tooth extracted because it’s become infected.

In the meantime, we stayed open and loyal clients stuck by us, and we know who they are. If people are willing to support local garages, there are still deals to be had. We’ve tried to be as safe as we possibly could with screens, sanitising stations and drop-offs, and so far we’ve had no cases of COVID connected to our premises.

It’s been a tough time financially for us; we did furlough a couple of staff, but we’re back to full power now – the bookings are coming in thick and fast. But it undoubtedly had an impact on everybody here. We knew clients who had the virus, and I even lost my father to it, and in the middle of it all, we’re trying to make ends meet.

It was tough for the older generation within the community, they were scared to venture out, and rightfully so. But people are starting to come back and we’re giving them the welcome they need. I served a 95-year-old client two days ago, he’s been with me for over 15 years, and still as handsome as ever!

We have to put ourselves at a certain amount of risk to attend to our clients and my staff have been absolutely superb. But at the end of the day, it’s a case of needs must. You’ve got a lot of people out of work, but while we’ve had to earn a living, it’s never been at the expense of a safe working environment. The best thing for us now is to get back on our feet and keep our local community safe out on the roads.

Booths Hale Barns staff with festive food bank donations.

Aga Zoltak, manager at Booths Hale Barns

This time 12 months ago, I’d come back from my holiday in Budapest, and it was almost like returning to a completely different world. Nobody knew what was happening, and the panic buying started.

Myself and my colleagues were coming to work a little unsure and a bit scared because we knew so little about the virus. Yet while others were furloughed or worked from home, we simply carried on. I always seek to reassure my team, and I want them to trust me. But at the beginning, I didn’t have many answers. Things were changing several times a day and just trying to keep up with government advice and communicate it to the team was a real challenge. But everybody pulled together and looked out for each other and I believe if anything, this pandemic has brought us closer. I had colleagues that had to self-isolate and they would still call in and ask if there was anything they could do to help. To have a team like that to help you through is half the battle, isn’t it?

To think where we are at now is our new way of life is kind of crazy. But when I think of what we’ve achieved over the past year, it really makes me proud – we’ve managed to adapt the entire way we work on and off the shop floor. To ensure sure we had adequate social distancing, every single part of our workplace was turned upside down.

From my own perspective, continuing to come into the shop has been reassuring in a strange way, because by keeping going we have kept that little bit of normal life. Where many people were feeling isolated, we still had a routine, a place to call home and an opportunity to be with our friends.

Being there for customers has given us a purpose. While it has been difficult, it has also been a privilege. More than anything, it has proved that if we put our heads together as a team, we can achieve anything.