Rama Blaggan arrived in Manchester in 1993 with nothing. She worked hard, saved some money and bought a shop – Sonia’s Newsagents on Oldham Road in Miles Platting. And for the last 20 years, while the area around it altered dramatically, Rama has been a constant presence.
But now that’s about to change. Rama, 51, is retiring. She doesn’t want to, but after two terrifying armed robberies in recent months, she says for the first time in her life she’s scared of going into work.
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She said: “Before I would open the shop up at 6am every day on my own, I would work late at night on my own and I never felt fear. Now when I open up I’m looking up and down the street making sure there’s no one outside. I’m scared.”
In November Rama was threatened with a knife by a man who followed her into the store. Thankfully she wasn’t harmed. The man spotted her dog – a German Shepherd called Bunty – behind the counter and after she set off an intruder alarm he fled empty-handed.
Rama said: “I didn’t scream, I didn’t shout. I just walked backwards. He said ‘give me money’. Then he saw my dog and I knew he wasn’t going to do anything. He ran away. It was properly, properly scary.”
Later that month her husband Jadge, 49, wasn’t quite so lucky. He was punched in the face by two masked men as he was stacking shelves. They left him in a pool of blood on the shop floor as they ran off with an empty till.
Rama said: “They had something heavy in the glove when they hit him. There were cuts all over his face. There was blood all over the floor. There was no money in the till – they took the wrong one.
“It’s really affected my husband. He keeps himself to himself now. He’s very angry about what happened, he hardly speaks to anyone.”
It wasn’t always like this. For much of their time at the shop, which doubles up as an off-licence and post office, Rama and Jadge have had no problems at all. They worked hard, felt welcomed, raised a family in the upstairs flat where they still live and became a central part of life in the area.
Every Christmas the shop throws a party for local families, with presents and a Santa. During lockdown they made up free lunches for kids who were off school and delivered food and essentials to elderly customers who were shielding.
Her efforts have been seen Rama recognized by the Post Office for her work with the community. And even now she regularly works 16-18 hours, seven days a week.
Rama says it’s all been for her children, a daughter, a solicitor who at just 27 has just become a partner in a law firm, and her 22-year-old son who’s about to qualify as a doctor. She’s proud of their achievements from her, but they’re worried about her and have persuaded her to call time on the shop when her son gets his first job from her.
Rama, who also has a six-year-old grandson, is upset it’s going to end like this. But the situation is beginning to affect her health. She’s started suffering blackouts, which she thinks are being brought on by stress
Rama said: “A shopkeeper’s life is really hard. We don’t make that much money, working 16-18 hours a day. I challenge any man to do the work that I have done over the last 21 years.
“I’m sad because I’ve got really good memories. A few customers have said ‘Don’t you dare leave try to leave us’. They look at the shop like it’s their home. They know if they ask me for something I’ll do everything I can to try to help them.
“They lift me up when things like this happen. And I don’t want to retire. I’m an independent woman. I didn’t bring anything from back home. Everything I’ve got I’ve worked hard for.
“But it’s too much stress. I can’t switch off. Even if I go upstairs for five minutes I’m looking at the CCTV cameras on my phone all the time, worrying about who’s in the shop. It’s really affecting me. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know I can’t do this any more.”
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