Britain’s oldest shop worker, 96, still working three days a week

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Irene Astbury opened Pet Food Supplies Ltd in Macclesfield, Cheshire, more than 40 years ago in 1981 and has worked there ever since. Up until the pandemic, Irene continued to work five days a week but cut back due to her family struggling to get her to work. Now the great-grandmother of seven works 25 and a half hours a week over three days, pricing items behind the till, looking after invoices, and keeping an eye on her employees.

But Irene said she isn’t giving up anytime soon.

She said: “I’m not giving up until they tell me to clear off. I have nothing better to do, I want to keep my eye on them all.

“It’s better than sitting at home and moping and I can keep my eye on all of the younger ones. I can still be on my feet, and that’s what matters.

“I’ve got no plans to stop going – or I can’t keep my eye on them all then. I don’t want to be sat at home.”

Irene runs the shop with one of her grandchildren, Gayle Parks, 36, who helped take over the shop when Irene lost her husband Les in 2007.

Gayle said Irene is “part of the furniture” with generations of people constantly coming in just to say hello.

She added: “We joke that she says ‘have I got to look at these four walls for much longer, how many more days until I’m back at the shop?’

“She gets bored easily at home when she is just sat there watching the telly, so she much prefers to be at work.

“We have generations of customers coming in, they remember nana when they first opened, and then she has watched their families grow up. There are some customers who have bought from us for 40 years, and now it is their children or their grandchildren coming in.

“She always asks about them and remembers them. There’s one customer whose daughter when travelling abroad, and one who worked in Mcdonald’s, and she will always ask how they are.

“Sometimes customers bring photographs in, or show her pictures. She always asks about certain families, and how their children are doing.

“I think she is an inspiration, and if my four children can follow in nana’s footsteps, after seeing her work ethic, then I think that’s good.”

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