‘It’s so unfair’: Fear, anger and uncertainty in the Greater Manchester town hit hardest by restrictions

Throughout the pandemic, it’s fair to say that Bolton has been through the mill.

Although it is currently the Greater Manchester borough with the lowest infection rate, that has certainly not always been the case.

In September 2020, it was the UK hotspot and became the only place in the country to have pubs, bars, restaurants, and cafes completely closed for a second time.

READ MORE: Thieves steal ‘£15k’ from bar reeling from Covid cancellations

Then, just a mere three weeks after being allowed to open their doors once again, the government announced that Greater Manchester would be placed in Tier 3, meaning that pubs and bars in Bolton were forced to close for a third time.

14 months on, as cases rise up and down the country and the Omicron variant spreads, some business owners are understandably on edge about the prospect of more restrictions being reimposed.

A Covid Pass or proof of a negative test is now required to get into certain venues in England, while in Wales, it has been announced that nightclubs will once again be forced to shut from December 27.

During a press conference earlier this week, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty urged people to cut down on social interactions before Christmas.

Chris Walker opened American-style bar and grill restaurant 51Fifty at the start of this month and pulled no punches when asked about the advice.

“He can shove it right up his f****** a***,” he vented.

51Fifty is in the old Blind Tiger venue in Nelson Square
51Fifty is in the old Blind Tiger venue in Nelson Square

“After what they got up to last year when people couldn’t see their relatives, they can get f****d.

“The government are terrifying people into staying in while allowing the businesses to stay open so they don’t have to pay them.

“The whole thing’s ridiculous. I understand a lot of people have lost loved ones but it’s not going away and normal life has to resume.

“Loads of people have caught this new variant but very few have been hospitalised.”

While his venue does not require a Covid Pass for entry, Chris empathised with his friends in the industry who it will affect.

“One of my very good friends is worried about it and they’re just understandably p****d of about the whole thing.

“It seems to me that there’s no hope for anyone but hospitality always gets hit first and hardest.”

Mark Gallagher owns the popular Definitely Maybe Bar with his brother Paul and he admitted that it feels as if hospitality has been hung out to dry once again.

Bolton's very own Gallagher brothers Paul (left) and Mark (right), who will run Definitely Maybe
Mark Gallagher (right) alongside brother and Definitely Maybe Bar co-owner Paul

“They’ve basically tried to scare people off haven’t they,” he said.

“We’ve already had a few cancellations for January, if we’re even going to be open in January, who knows at this point.”

It is not just the hospitality and live events industry that is affected. Self-employed hairdressers also rely heavily on bookings they receive during the busy festive period.

Abbie Dillon, who lives in Farnworth but co-owns Halo salon in Leigh, said: “I’ve had a lot of cancellations but nothing major yet, thank God.

“Obviously the safety of the clients has to come first but hair salons are really safe places to come anyway.

“I’m self-employed as well though, and it’s the busiest time of year for me by far, so obviously I’m a bit worried about it.”

Then there are self-employed entertainers and performers, who need venues to remain open, in order to make a living.

Bolton-based vocalist Tom Townsend has a number of bookings throughout December, both as himself and his drag alter ego Tess.

He told the Manchester Evening News that he has already had two cancellations this month and is concerned that more could follow.

“It just feels like we are going backwards with this new variant because Covid cases are on the rise again,” Tom said.

“I’m a little worried because as soon as a gig is cancelled, I instantly don’t make that money. It is quite worrying, especially at this time of year.

Bolton town centre

“You’ve just got to look after yourself health-wise because you can get all sorts of things at this time of year – not just Covid. I’ve recently been off with tonsillitis which as a self employed performer is not good at all.”

Asked whether it feels as if the live events industry has been scapegoated by the government, Tom added: “Absolutely and it’s so unfair.

“At one point, I just felt that the government didn’t really care about the industry at all.

“Still to this day they are threatening to close us again, which is not going to be any good for anyone.”

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