There was a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air as shoppers returned to Bury town centre this morning for the first time in months.

At The Rock shopping centre, hordes of hopeful shoppers arrived early and queued patiently outside their favourite stores.

Following weeks of preparation, non-essential retailers were finally able to throw open their doors for the first time since early January.

Outside Primark, the first customers arrived at around 8am.

With no website, it was the first time shoppers have been able to buy items from the store in months.

Queues outside Primark at The Rock shopping centre, in Bury

And it did not take long for a queue to form.

The store was not supposed to open until 9am, but welcomed customers half an hour early in order to relieve the queues.

Among those waiting to get in were Marie Brooks and her daughter Melody.

Ms Brooks said they were 'excited' to browse for sales after growing tired of shopping online in recent months.

"It’s nice to get a bit more back to normal," she explained.

Marie Brooks (right) and her daughter Melody were among those queuing to get into Primark at The Rock shopping centre

"When it comes to clothing, your BooHoo and PrettyLittleThing, you can order your size and it can come five sizes too big.

"It’s so much better when you can touch and see things in person.

"When you come into the shop in person, it’s done, it’s paid for."

Elsewhere, queues snaked outside several other stores, including Debenhams, which reopened for a clearance sale this morning.

While the reopening of shops marked a return to normality, a host of safety measures remain in place throughout the shopping centre.

Among the precautions staff have spent several weeks organising are sanitation units, a one-way system and signage.

Yet the sense of joy at being able to socialise with friends and loved ones again was clear as seating areas outside cafes and restaurants filled up quickly.

It followed months of closure for large parts of the hospitality sector as people were urged to stay at home.

The seating area outside Racconto Lounge at The Rock shopping centre was full shortly after opening on Monday morning

Arnold Wilcox-Wood, the centre director at The Rock, said staff had been preparing for the reopening for months, describing it as 'D-Day'.

"Hopefully we can get back to some sense of normality," he said.

"I think today will be a reasonably busy day and it will build up week-on-week as we go forward.

"Now you have the opportunity, rather than sitting at home and shopping online on your own, you can come back to the shopping centre and the high street.

"You can see all these people, the community spirit, things going on, relaxing in the sunshine. It's so much better than retailing online.

"Human beings are social animals. We want to mix, we enjoy mixing.

"It's wonderful to see people, walking around and talking with a smile on their faces."

Shoppers at The Rock shopping centre in Bury

However, amid the excitement, there were also sobering reminders of a difficult 12 months for the high street.

Topshop and Oasis were among the stores which did at The Rock that did not reopen this morning, both victims of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a message pinned to the window of the former Dorothy Perkins/Burton store thanked customers for their support and urged them to 'support their local high street'.

Despite a challenging year, Mr Wilcox-Wood says he is optimistic about what the future holds for The Rock.

He added: "Normally we are a thriving shopping centre, but for the last three months it has been spot the shopper.

"People in Bury really have conformed to all the rules and regulations laid down by the government.

"You can see the relief on people's faces now.

"We want to make sure we are fully conversant with all the regulations for Covid to make sure all our retailers and customers are as safe as we can make them."