Through all the twists and turns of this pandemic, the so-called Freedom Day offered a cathartic release for many.
We have been isolated and disconnected for so long, missed out on moments that bring us joy – but 19 July delivered a feeling of bliss as the sun shone across England.
No one has danced on the Blackpool Tower’s iconic ballroom floor for 16 months, but people returned on Monday with a spring in their step.
The grand, live music brought this venue to life and many who had been shielding and protecting themselves from the virus were back to finally taste freedom.
Four generations of the Riley family have been coming to the tower ballroom for years.
Dancing is in their blood, they said, and coming back to the ballroom for them was a special moment.
Arthur Riley, 74, came with his wife, daughter and grandson.
“We get so much pleasure out of dancing here,” he said.
“This place is so special and for years and years families have come here and danced.
“This is one of the most iconic places in the world to dance and it’s a real honour and a priceless opportunity to be here.
“I’ve missed it so much.”
But what would usually have been four generations was only three on Monday. During the pandemic Arthur lost his father – a man who was dancing at the ballroom up to the age of 97. His daughter Beverley Hunt said this day was ‘bittersweet’.
She told Sky News: “Dancing is freedom anyway, it’s your release, you get everything you need here regardless.
“But this is the first time we’re back without my grandad and that’s really sad, especially because dancing meant to much to him too.”
People travelled far and wide to be a part of the reopening of the Blackpool Tower ballroom.
Chris and Anthony left home at 3.30am to travel almost 100 miles just to get back on to the dancefloor.
“My normal life today has opened up because we both got to the stage of asking if we’d ever get back here,” Anthony Reed said.
“It’s so good to be here, getting everyone dancing again, meeting people again, it’s so important to us.”
His wife, Chris said: “This is crucial for our mental health.
“Not having this for the last 16 months has been horrible.
“We’ve been walking a lot through lockdown but it’s no substitute. So this really is amazing to be back, on the dancefloor and enjoying what we love. It’s a special day.”
“Freedom Day” may not be for everyone, – many still have reservations – but this country has been hurting and the pandemic has governed our lives for the best part of two years, so the easing of restrictions brings exhilaration for many, particularly those who have missed out on clubbing and socialising at bars.
At Manchester’s 20 Stories bar, students Lybbie and Sophia say they have a lot of clubbing and nights out to catch up on.
Lybbie Halsall said: “The plan is to go out on club nights, be drinking all the time and just really soaking up all the atmosphere.
“Now the sun’s out, everything is out. It’s going to be an anniversary for me I think, every year, 19 July, Freedom Day.
“You also just don’t have to worry about the little things like forgetting your mask, or dodging people when you’re out and scanning when you get into places – it’s a big lift off your shoulders.”
It was pure luck that “Freedom Day” fell when the country was basking in the sun – it made it taste a little bit sweeter for the millions that had been waiting for it.
This was the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve all spoken about for a while and now that it’s here it feels like bliss.