Brian and Margaret Walters had never spent more than the odd few days apart in 56 years of marriage.
But on March 13 last year, when the covid crisis meant 78-year-old Margaret’s nursing home closed its doors to visitors, the couple were forced into isolation.
Today the retired publicans were able to hold hands for the first time in almost a year.
The moving moment was replicated around the country as indoor care home visits resumed in England as part of lockdown easing measures.
It was ‘really something’, said Brian, 81, who brought a bunch of flowers along for the emotional reunion.
The couple, who ran the Pleasant Inn in Royton for 20 years, were reunited in a specially-built summer house in the grounds of The Coppice nursing home in Oldham.
Sitting across the table from one another, as daughter Karen watched on from behind a perspex screen, Margaret, who has dementia, and Brian clasped hands and chatted face-to-face for the first time in 360 days.
Brian said: “I brought Margaret back from an appointment on Friday, March 13, and that was that.
“I used to visit her every day and we’ve never spent that much time apart from each other, other than the odd week here and there if we went on holiday with friends.
“The reason we got the pub was so we could could be together all the time.
“It’s been really hard, but what do you do?
“You just have to get on with it.
“Originally I had to fight the feeling of just needing to get her and bring her home.
“Today was really something.
“Margaret doesn’t really understand what what I am saying to her, but you can normally get a smile out of her.
“I got one today and she has a cracking smile.
“I’m hoping things will start getting better now.”
Opening up care homes is part of the first step of the Government’s road map for easing restrictions.
Ministers will decide whether to extend the number of visitors to two per resident at step two, no earlier than April 12.
Visitors are required to be tested beforehand, as well as wearing personal protective equipment, and are advised to keep physical contact to a minimum.
Hand-holding is permitted, but hugs and kissing are not allowed, in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Mandy Vickers, administrator at The Coppice, said until now families had been restricted to seeing their loved ones through a ground floor window.
She said: “It’s been a very emotional day, but it’s been really, really lovely.
“We were a little bit scared about doing it, but seeing the families today we just feel so pleased that we have got to this point.”
The lack of physical contact with family and friends has been ‘very hard’ for residents, said Mandy.
But now for the first time in months staff, residents and their families were looking to the future with optimism, she added.
“It wasn’t that bad to start with but as time you could see it was starting to affect their spirits,” Mandy said.
“They couldn’t really understand what was going on.
“But it’s meant we’ve become a sort of family. We’ve been trying to protect them as best we could.
“Today feels like it’s a step on the way back to normality – to them being able to see their relatives properly again. It’s really lovely.”