Bolton’s New Normal
As I publish this blog, it’s almost six months since the country went into Lockdown and three months since my first blog on how Bolton is coping with these changes, Bolton under Lockdown. Following on from that we’ve had a tightening of the rules, then a relaxing of the rules and now Bolton has also had its own local and even stricter version of lockdown.
Wearing masks in shops and on public transport, not socialising with other households are my simplified versions of the measures that we’re now living under and what constitute our new normal, given none of us have any idea how long this will last for.
So, a good time then to record this different version of our lockdown – how is it affecting Bolton and how are people here are adapting and getting on with their lives?
My starting point, Blackburn Road, has its fair share of hairdressers and barbers, so I can imagine after months of closure, they were very pleased to be back in business.
Similarly, a previously closed car-wash was again open for business.
To get as broad a picture as possible I actually had two trips into the town centre – one at the end of July and the other a few weeks later, so the account that follows is an amalgam of these two days. While I usually walk, a wet day August made me abandon that idea half-way into town, and I caught the bus instead.
My intention was not only to revisit some of the locations featured in my first blog but also to check out places that were closed at that time. I’d like to point out that all the businesses featured were complying with the lockdown rules in force at the time the photo was taken.
In my first blog, I’d pictured a shot of X-Records’ brightly painted shutters but this time, I was delighted to be able to go inside.
The owners are proud of their downstairs vinyl section and as it happened to be the 40 years’ anniversary of Joy Division’s Closer album, understandably there was a bit of a theme going on here.
Of course, I should mention that everyone in the shop was wearing a mask – good news. I guess we all have our personal preferences of what style we wear, but I especially loved this matching mask/album cover combination.
And, of course, you can’t go wrong with a timeless Dylan/Cohen purchase either!
It’s fair to say, I spent quite a lot of time in X-Records, so I was ready for a coffee-break and the nearby pedestrianised Corporation Street was a good place to seek out refreshment.
Despite the tempting outside area, I nonetheless opted for the less windy first floor of the delightful Amico café, served by Courtney and her cheery team.
One of my favourite places in Bolton Town Centre is Le Mans Crescent with its graceful curved architecture that houses the co-located museum, gallery and central library.
The library was as hushed as ever, but evidence of COVID measures were clearly on display.
Not that these have deterred people from using the library – thankfully.
If you saw my first blog of Bolton under Lockdown, you’ll know that the Interchange was already quite well prepared with marked-out seating and teams of cleaners preparing buses before their outward journeys. Visiting again, it’s as well organised as before and people were adhering quite well to the mask-waring rules.
Although the market was open at the time of my previous blog, I only featured a shot of the long queue of people waiting to be let inside. Entrance restrictions were not as severe this time round, so I headed inside.
The café at the centre of the market was certainly doing a good trade on a Saturday afternoon, with a lovely buzz almost reminiscent of that pre-COVID atmosphere, the key difference being the screens partitioning opposite sides of the tables.
WIth the re-opening of non-essential shops, there are definitely more people in the town centre.
Here are some shots taken around the town, including Newport Street . .
Crompton Arcade . . .
Victoria Square . . .
and the food hall of the “this is not just a . . .” shop . . .
plus, people going about their business in the Market Hall shopping centre.
Pubs, bars and night-life had been making a come-back with recent easing, so I popped into the newly refurbished Courthouse. Screens had been installed between tables and strict social measures were in place, including staff taking names and contact details of all guests on entry. Despite these additional tasks, the staff were all doing a great job, working hard to ensure everyone was having as normal a time as possible in their bar.
It was this scene that really captured my eye though, and while the neon signs add a fun element to the bar’s interior, they also made me think about the situation we find ourselves in (not a reflection on the people below these signs, of course!).
A new normal, for how long?
So with these visits, it was good to see how local businesses and the bigger high-street chains have accommodated social distancing. While people are coming back into the town, it is undoubtedly with a subdued and cautious feel, as we’re all muffled and quietened by the wearing of masks, which of course is absolutely vital.
As I write Bolton has receded back to having higher incidences of COVID cases, and there’s no sight of any easing just yet. I guess this yoyo-ing between acceptable and unacceptable infection levels will persist for a time – and in other places across the UK too, as we’re beginning to face fears of a second wave hitting the UK.
While I felt a sense of resignation amongst the people I met, there was also a positive hopefulness too, as people make the best of the situation we find ourselves in. This is possibly best summed up by this couple who have wholeheartedly matched their masks to their personal style.
Let’s hope everyone in Bolton (and the rest of the UK) do everything we can to bring back the former days of seemingly unappreciated freedom.