What was in store with an ‘elderly hour’ visit to Luton supermarket?

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Empty shelves have become the norm in our supermarkets in recent days with panic buying continuing as the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe.

Bedfordshire shoppers have been raiding food stores for essential items such as bread, milk, toilet rolls and hand sanitising products faster they can be replenished - despite repeated pleas against such stockpiling.

To give some of our more senior citizens half a chance in the wake of such mayhem, stores have implemented dedicated elderly-only shopping times to ensure everyone gets their fair share. The elderly are also being given priority access to online delivery slots.

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We asked a regular reader to set her alarm clock nice and early to assess how successful the experiment of allowing more vulnerable shoppers into Sainsbury’s in Bury Park, Luton, for the first hour of trading from 8am on Thursday would prove.

Sainsbury's elderly hour March 19Sainsbury's elderly hour March 19
Sainsbury's elderly hour March 19 | User (UGC)

It was certainly an eye-opener, with scores of people waiting for the branch to open, mixed results on picking up the required supplies and an unnerving escape where crowds of envious younger shoppers were glaring into her trolley to see what she’d dared to pluck from the shelves.

Our special agent, ‘Dorothy’, in her 70s, accompanied by her husband and her neighbour, turned up at this Sainsbury’s branch at 7.55am where already a queue of 50 people had formed.

She told us: “They were being very strict. There were three members of staff blocking the doorway and were only letting in anyone in the ‘vulnerable group’. Anyone else was turned away.

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“We got talking to one woman in the queue who said she had gone to the Bramingham branch (which was opening at 7am) and couldn’t get down the road due to the queue of cars, so she gave up and came to this store instead.”

Once inside it was obvious the shop hadn’t been able to completely restock.

Dorothy, a regular at this particular store, said: “The supply of fresh produce was limited, although the basics such as potatoes, carrots, salad produce and bananas appeared to be in plentiful supply. There was meat and fish available, but it was not a full range. I was not able to buy tin goods such as vegetables, tomatoes, baked beans etc, or flour, but my husband did manage to grab one odd tin of soup!

“Toilet rolls must have been available as I saw them in other people’s trolleys, but by the time I reached that aisle, they had none left.

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“I managed to purchase two thirds of the items on my shopping list and the rest were not available.”

Having paid at the tills, Dorothy found the exit door had been locked to keep the growing crowds outside at bay. Once freed she was left to walk the gauntlet of about 80 frustrated shoppers looking jealously at her purchases.

So was it worth setting her alarm for?

She concluded: “It was much appreciated being able to have access to the store despite the unavailability of some items. I did ask a member of staff if this arrangement will be repeated again next week, but they were unable to confirm this as it depended on how it went today.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We would like to thank our customers who supported the decision to dedicate an hour in our supermarkets on Thursday morning to the elderly and vulnerable. We know that they appreciated the early access and we will listen to feedback from our customers and colleagues.”

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> How have you fared with your grocery shopping in the past week? Did you try the elderly hour at one of our local supermarkets and did it work for you? Send details of your experiences / photos to [email protected]

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