Ann Harmston is feeling resigned.

She hasn’t hugged her seven grandchildren or 13 great grandchildren since plunged the nation into lockdown in early spring.

It’s a heart-breaking reality families across Greater Manchester will recognise.

“I’ve seen the elder ones through the front window of my house,” said 77-year-old Ann, who closed the door to her home in March and didn’t leave it until June.

“I remember the day I did go out. It was such a difference. I was totally shocked,” says Ann.

Like a lot of older people who are at greater risk from coronavirus, Ann has been very careful to stay away from people.

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Shoppers in Sale town centre on Friday afternoon
(Image: ABNM Photography)

As I speak to her, she is sitting on a bench on the pedestrianised School Road in Sale town centre with her daughter Lesley Harmston, 51, an engineer.

“A year is precious to my mum. She will never get that year back. It’s wasted,” says Lesley.

“It’s been rubbish. It’s never ending. You have to sit and eat something on benches! We’re all waiting for a bench to become available.”

A smattering of people shuffle by with their shopping as I speak to mum and daughter on what would, in normal circumstances, be a busy pre-Christmas Friday afternoon.

It’s a day after has announced that Greater Manchester will be placed in Tier 3 when the second national lockdown comes to a close this week.

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Ann and Lesley Harmston
(Image: ABNM Photography)

For many people in Trafford, putting the borough into the toughest regime of restrictions seems harsh. As we we speak, the latest figures show that 156 people per 100,000 people in the borough have returned a positive coronavirus test in the last week.

This places the borough below the England average of 187 and below all the other boroughs of Greater Manchester.

But Trafford, together with the rest of Greater Manchester, has been placed in Tier 3 while London is in Tier 2, where pubs and restaurants can open as long as drinks are accompanied by a substantial meal. Up to 2,000 spectators will be allowed to watch sports in stadiums in Tier 2.

London’s infection rate is around 180 per 100,000 but the capital’s ‘R’ number, the average number of people each person who tests positive goes on to to infect, is above 1, a sign that the virus is spreading there.

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Shoppers in Sale town centre
(Image: ABNM Photography)

In the north west, the ‘R’ number is below 1, a sign it is receding here although the numbers here are generally still very high.

But Trafford, even though it has a lower infection rate than in the capital, and falling, will be in Tier 3 from Wednesday, a situation most people I speak to on School Road find galling.

Non-essential shops will be allowed to re-open in Tier 3 areas. But will they?

The shutters are down at Heart To Heart, a gift shop which has been trading on School Road for 30 years. Businesses like this one will struggle to re-open and survive.

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
The shutters are down at Heart To Heart
(Image: ABNM Photography)

Maybe Tier 2 – tough as it still is – could be the lifeline that saves businesses from closure.

Lesley Harmston thinks so.

“We’re all sensible enough. We know what to do and what not to do. We’re not stupid people. We feel so sorry for the shops. Some of them won’t re-open. It’s such a shame. It’s terrible,” she says.

Trafford’s three MPs (two Labour and one Conservative), are agree with Lesley that the borough should be in Tier 2.

Like many ailing towns across Greater Manchester, scratch a little under the surface and there is anxiety to go with fortitude about the future.

One woman wearing a mask, who declines to be named, said it was only the second time she had been out of her home since March.

Sitting with a friend on another of those sought-after benches, she tells me: “We’re in Tier 3. If the figures stay as they are, he (Boris) might put us into Tier 2. We’ll see.

“It’s very rare I come out into Sale. My daughter does my shopping. I do get very nervous. People don’t seem to get it. They don’t understand social distancing.

“They think it’s perfectly alright to walk past you and breathe into your face. They should keep their distance. I do feel a it intimidated.”

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Layachi Bouskouchi
(Image: ABNM Photography)

Layachi Bouskouchi, 66, a retired Manchester City player liaison officer, when asked whether he thinks putting Greater Manchester into Tier 3 was the right thing, replied: “I think it’s right. Whatever you say, people mix. The worrying thing is opening up for Christmas.

“I know Christmas is precious to us all. But I think after Christmas it will be painful. That’s the worrying thing.”

Asked how he was coping, he admits: “It’s a bit of stress. You can’t see your friends and loved ones. A friend of mine has died and I can’t even go to his funeral. Personally, I don’t have time for that man.”

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Like so many towns, Sale is struggling
(Image: ABNM Photography)

He confirms ‘that man’ is Prime Minister . “I think he’s a clown.”

“London is bigger and London is busier. We’re in Tier 3 and they are in Tier 2. I think it’s wrong,” said Layachi.

Roy Bebbington, 61, a painter and decorator, asked: “Why are we in Tier 3? It’s wrong. The R number in London is higher than it is here. They are in Tier 2 and we’re still in Tier 3.”

The north-south divide, he said, ‘just got wider’.

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Roy Bebbington
(Image: ABNM Photography)

Roy sided with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who has repeatedly tussled with and the government to provide more financial support for people who are struggling during lockdown.

“I’m not really political but from I’ve seen in the last few weeks he’s right isn’t he?” said Roy, comparing Burnham with with Game Of Thrones character Jon Snow.

“He’s our king of the north,” he said.

Asked how he had coped since March, he said he was working now, socially distanced, but added: “I think it’s been as hard as it was in the first lockdown.”

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, left, and Andy Burnham, right

A keen angler, he’s happy he can go fishing but struggles to understand why his golfing buddies aren’t allowed onto a course during the current restrictions.

It’s not the only rule he struggles with.

“My other love is Manchester United. They are playing at West Ham next week and they will have supporters in the ground. The week after, United will be back at Old Trafford and there will be no supporters. Explain that?” asked Roy.

'I haven't hugged my grandkids since March'… the heart-breaking reality as suburban Greater …
Sale in Trafford will be in Tier 3 from Wednesday
(Image: ABNM Photography)

For the last three years Melanie Coops, 50, has worked in gift shop Heart To Heart, which has been been trading in Sale for 30 years.

It’s had to close during the second lockdown but, like so many businesses, they are struggling to survive.

“Just around the corner is WH Smith. They have been able to stay open. We sell the same stuff. Everywhere closed during the first lockdown which I think people were more accepting of,” says Melanie.

“Then when we were allowed to open we did everything to make it Covid-safe. We’re smaller and probably safer than WH Smith but we’re not allowed to open.

“We monitor people, make sure they’re wearing masks and provide hand gel. What did this lockdown actually achieve? What was the purpose of it?

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“It’s affected a lot of businesses. We want people to be safe but we don’t want them to lose their jobs.”

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