Coronavirus lockdown: Oswestry becomes a ghost town - with pictures
A haunting song from the 80s came into my head as I drove into Oswestry.
The Specials’ Ghost Town, released at a time of mass unemployment and uncertainty, could have been written for today.
Clubs have closed down – not because of fighting on the dance floor, but because of the spread of coronavirus.
And not just clubs, but pubs, cafes, shops, offices, everything bar stores selling essentials.
Just two buses stood in the normally packed station. And car parks were almost empty, except that of the Oswestry Medical Centre.
The market town is usually bustling with shoppers, workers and, at the time of day I was there, students leaving the Marches School.
Today, it was empty. Just a handful of people walking on pavements with shopping bags, some with masks, all deliberately keeping their distance, looking slightly lost. Council employees were locking up the public toilets and the town’s award-winning Cae Glas Park was closed, its gate, a memorial to those killed in active service, locked.
At Sainsbury’s, which for two weeks, like other supermarkets, has been stripped of necessities from the shelves, there was an eerie quiet.
A handful of shoppers went quietly around the store, with one door in and one door out, getting noticeably smaller trolleys of items.
Shopper Caroline Morris said she had heeded the ‘please do not to panic buy’ message and was making her first visit for a fortnight.
“This lockdown had to happen,” she said. “The way people have behaved is appalling.”
However, she added: “While something like this brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. At West Felton, where I live, the village stores and post office has been brilliant. It has been doing deliveries to the elderly and those self isolating. It advertised for volunteers to take out the groceries and even offered to reimburse their costs.”
One shop still open was Oswestry’s Petworld, opened in 1978 by Ken Malcolm.
“We are still able to open as we sell pet food,” Mr Malcolm said.
“We are cutting our hours to 9am to 4pm, but while people may not be able to get their pet’s favourite brand or flavour, we still have pet food.”
He said he felt for the retailers of Oswestry.
“I hope that when this is all over shoppers will support our local traders as they will need it,” he added.
Trying to work out whether they will be able to run any kind of service is Os Nosh.
The community kitchen offers free or pay-as-you-feel meals for everyone who is hungry, struggling or just in need of some company, using donated food, or food that would otherwise be wasted.
Ben Wilson, who runs the initiative with his brother, Tom, said: “We had to close our weekly meals. Now we just want clarity on whether when can offer some kind of takeaway service, before we proceed. If we can carry on then we need to access surplus food again, but I can make ingredients go a long way.
“And we would also be appealing for people to donate things like vinyl gloves and sanitiser.”
Gilhams delicatessen and cafe is now running as a food and essentials delivery service to customers, old and new.
Owner Julian Morris said: “We have been inundated with phone calls asking if we can deliver what we sell here and other essentials. Thankfully, we have good links with a local bakery and other producers.
“Our staff have been absolutely incredible.”
Having their daily walk were the licensees of the Bailey Head pub, Duncan Borrowman and Grace Godland.
Just 10 days ago they were celebrating being named best pub in Britain, outside London, by the Society of Independent Brewers.
Now the pub is closed, and they admit they have no idea whether they will open again.
“It has been a real rollercoaster,” Grace said.
“Knowing the staff would be paid was such a relief. I worry about them and I worry about our customers.
“Many of our regulars are older and I am worried about everyone’s mental health through all of this. It is very, very hard.
“I fear it will be a very different world at the end of this. People won’t socialise as much and I don’t know how many pubs will survive.”
Taking her daily walk was June Williams, who has lived and worked in Oswestry all her life. She is known not only for her work at Christians the Jewellers, but as a churchwarden.
“I have never ever seen anything like this, it is very sad,” she said.
“Our vicar, the Rev Harvey Gibbons and wife, Liz, been wonderful. And my neighbours, a young Bulgarian couple, are really looking after me, making sure there is nothing I need. We will bounce back from this, it is human nature.”