Hunger, fear, and hiding from the meter – the hard times seen today at Bury Market


A man eats from a plate of leftover food while pensioners huddle inside cafés for hours to stay warm. It sounds more like a scene from Victorian times than life in the UK in 2022.

But this is the grim reality traders at Bury Market say they are seeing amid the cost of living crisis. Across Greater Manchester and the country, soaring bills have left millions of people facing difficult decisions.

Even here at ‘Britain’s favourite market’, stallholders are worried – for themselves and their customers. “Some of the older ones are saying they are scared,” said Lizelle Bramall, who runs a hair salon in the market hall.

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“A few have stopped coming altogether. They can’t afford it.”

Rising costs mean many stallholders at Bury Market have had to up their prices – a decision they have not taken lightly, especially when they can see their loyal regulars are also struggling.

Last month, a 54 per cent rise in the energy price cap – which limits the amount that can be charged per unit of gas and electricity – came into effect. It means the average household is now forking out nearly £700 more on their bills annually.

Prices in the supermarkets and at the petrol pumps have also soared amid record inflation, only adding to the ongoing misery for many families in Bury and across the region. Stallholders say they are already seeing the impact on people’s finances.

Paul Butcher-Fielding is the co-owner of The Coffee Pot on the outdoor market. While his footfall has fallen, he says some customers have been staying for longer, which he puts down to people trying to cut down on gas and electric at home.

Paul Butcher-Fielding outside The Coffee Pot

“They will have a drink and stay for a couple of hours,” he said. “It’s difficult because of the size of the café, but I can’t say go.”

Rising supply costs have left Paul agonising over whether to increase his prices. So far, he has managed to keep his menu affordable, although he worries what the impact will be long-term.

“You’re limited to how much you can put them up because of the competition,” he explained. “We’ve kept our prices down but how long can we carry on?”

Fiona Kefford, owner of Fee’s Eatery, has also noticed customers spending longer inside her cafe. “I have a guy who sits here all day,” she said.

“He has a bacon and egg sandwich and sits there for about three hours. I don’t ask why because I don’t like to pry but he never used to do it.”

Traders complain the market is quieter these days

Like many traders, Ms Kefford was still trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic when the cost of living crisis hit. She took over the café just before lockdown but says she regrets doing so.

“It’s dead quiet,” she said. “People are not spending any money because they can’t afford it.

“First we had lockdown, now this. It’s an absolute nightmare. I’m in a contract so if I just jack it in then I still have to pay the rent every week.

“My electric has gone up. It’s due any time and I’m dreading it. I’ve had to put all the prices up because everything has gone up.”

Shoppers at Bury Market

A member of staff at Valerie’s café offered a particularly bleak example of just how desperate some people have become. The woman, who asked not to be named, recalled how she recently saw an elderly man enter the café before sitting down at a table and eating from a plate of leftover food.

“Someone else had left the food and we hadn’t had the chance to clean the table,” she explained. It’s awful to see.

“A lot of people are really struggling at the minute. The old people will sit for hours with a coffee.

“They don’t want to go home because of the heating costs. We had regulars last week saying they don’t know how they’re going to pay the next bills.”

Price rises are affecting everyone

Over at Alison’s café, manager Rebecca has reluctantly increased her prices. Gesturing towards a container filled with oil, she explains that it now costs three times more than it did several months ago.

“I have to buy it,” she said. “I can’t have dirty oil because it affects the quality of the food.”

She says some customers are simply unable to pay the higher prices. “If it’s over a fiver, people will say they can’t afford it,” she explained. “No one would do that before.

“There are people just walking around the market, they don’t want to spend any money. They’re just going for a walk to get out of the house. Unless they have savings or a good pension, they’re screwed.

Traders worry about what winter this year will bring

“It’s going to get worse in the winter. Unless the government does something to help then we’ll all be sat in the dark with no gas or electric.

“Whether you work or are on benefits, it doesn’t matter. You’re f*****.”

Zane Feeney, manager at Walsh’s butchers, says footfall on his stall is down by about a third on before the pandemic. “It’s never recovered,” he said.

“For small businesses, it’s not good. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked.

“We’re on lower margins than we’ve ever been but the stuff is more expensive. People are asking why the prices are going up and saying they can’t afford it.”

One man whose business has boomed in the current climate is Tom Finnigan, the owner of Tom’s Bargain Corner. The stall offers a range of discount goods close to their sell by dates, and he is predicting his ‘best year ever’.

Tom Finnigan, owner of Tom’s Bargain Corner

“There are people shopping with us who wouldn’t have done before,” he explained. “We’re getting a lot more people in, a younger crowd as well.

“They’re stocking up and making fewer trips because of the cost of fuel. People are scrutinising stuff a bit more where before they might have just thrown it in a basket.

“I think we’re doing a service. On market stalls, people talk about the weather, football and now they’re talking about the cost of living.”

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