A hidden hero: Pat helping out Mrs Taylor, his oldest customer (Image: Mercury Press & Media Ltd)
After hearing of the unstinting dedication and hard work by local shopkeepers during three national lockdowns, the Daily Express launched a competition to find the nation’s Newsangels – the newsagents who went above and beyond for their communities.
We had an amazing response from customers who told heart-warming stories about hidden heroes who worked day and night to distribute food, medicine and essentials to the elderly and vulnerable in their area.
From rural communities to city estates, those cut off from the world by the pandemic were offered a lifeline by shop owners and their staff in corner shops, small post offices and independent mini-marts, who delivered supplies to doorsteps, hospitals and care homes.
They cooked meals, worked long hours and even sourced special products to help customers and frontline staff in their hour of need.
In association with The National Lottery, last week we celebrated our regional runner-up finale, where each won £1,000.
Today, we are proud to announce that Prakash and Purnima Patel are crowned champions of the Daily Express Newsangels competition for their selfless work throughout the pandemic.
Nothing has been too much trouble for the couple, who run the Newtown Post Office and convenience store in the Swinton area of Manchester.
Delighted customers say Pat — as those who know him call him — and Purnima fully deserve the £5,000 prize money.
Shannon and Sharon fully relied on others’ help during lockdown. Pat was like ‘an angel’ for them. (Image: Mercury Press & Media Ltd)
I can honestly say they’ve got me and my disabled granddaughter [Shannon] through the pandemic and been absolute gems
Pat, 62, was overwhelmed when the Express broke the news and told him and Purnima that they had received multiple nominations.
“Winning has come as such a lovely surprise for us,” says Pat.
“Right from the start of the pandemic, we wanted to make sure our older and vulnerable customers were okay and were getting everything they needed. Luckily, our local cash and carry businesses were very helpful, so we could get a lot of stock.
“We got up at 4 am to get in extra supplies and set up deliveries… and some of them are still going, which is great.”
But the couple, who have five children between them from previous marriages, say they could not have managed without the support of their staff Helen Jackson, Susan Wolstencroft, Lisa Schofield, Nilesh Tailor and five newspaper delivery workers.
“I started here in 1987 and over the last 33 years or so I’ve got to know so many people, so you know the sort of items they need,” says Pat.
Nominator Sharon Lucas, 64, said: “I can honestly say they’ve got me and my disabled granddaughter [Shannon] through the pandemic and been absolute gems.”
Shannon, 24, has Down’s Syndrome and suffers from many debilitating health conditions, while Sharon has crippling arthritis, which makes it painful to lift anything heavy.
“In the lockdown, we couldn’t cross the door as Shannon was in the highest risk category, so we were reliant on people helping us,” says Sharon.
“Pat called and offered to do whatever he could to help, and he was as good as his word. He collected prescriptions, paid my bills and withdrew money for me – he’s even taken my dogs for a walk.
“He’s always a gentleman and happy to help. He makes our lives so much easier.”
In her nomination, Sharon wrote: “Pat is truly an angel.”
Sharon admits she sometimes felt overwhelmed by the struggle to try and live normally during lockdown, but her spirits were always boosted by the kind actions of Pat and his staff.
Another nominator is 101-year-old Janet Taylor, who wrote this to the Express: “Pat was always well stocked, kept his prices low all through the pandemic and never failed to deliver my Daily Express, which has been a lifeline to me whilst in isolation.
“He insisted that if I needed anything he was only a phone call away. I think he has served the community extremely well and is always pleasant and obliging.”
Daily Express Newsangel: a well-deserved honour, as voted by his community (Image: Mercury Press & Media Ltd)
On being told Pat and Purnima had won, Mrs Taylor said: “I’m delighted they’ve won it, they deserve it.”
And Pat paid tribute to his loyal customer: “Mrs Taylor is my oldest customer and such a nice lady to help. We’ve been so lucky with all our customers over the years.”
The couple’s shop is situated in what was once a bustling area. In recent years, however, many businesses have closed. They quickly realised that with fewer banks locally, people needed banking for a wide range of financial services.
“A lot of people use us to withdraw money and for other services, which is convenient for them and good for us,” says Pat.
“Times have changed but people haven’t changed that much. It’s a case of working out what they need and adapting.
“There’s a business near here which makes pies. They are really good, so we sell them as well and they are really popular. We are always looking for ways to improve our service and meet the demands of our customers.”
And in good times and bad, they never fail to deliver.