Hold Still finalist captures the ‘spirit of Manchester’ during COVID-19 crisis

  • Final images featured in Hold Still, a photography project facilitated by the National Portrait Gallery and fronted by the Duchess of Cambridge, revealed this week
  • Exhibition captures lockdown experiences across UK
  • Among the 100 finalists were Anthony Owens and his team at Antonio’s takeaway in Middleton
  • Team saw a need in their community and began meal delivery service for people self-isolating

The owner of a Middleton takeaway is “enormously proud” to have been revealed as a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery’s Hold Still exhibition.

An image captured at Antonio’s Italian Takeaway was selected from more than 31,000 entries to feature in the online exhibition, illustrating people’s lives during lockdown.

When Anthony Owens and his team saw panic rising in their community in early March, they started to use their days off cook and deliver meals for those self-isolating in north Manchester.

Anthony said it was a “surreal experience… watching the lockdown being announced while boxing up meals”, after posting on Facebook offering help to struggling families.

What began as a simple act of kindness became a lifeline for over 100 households throughout lockdown.

The exhibition’s selection committee, which included the Duchess of Cambridge and Lemn Sissay MBE, recognised the efforts of the team at Antonio’s in an “overwhelming” judging process.

Hold Still received submissions from across the UK, documenting the highs and lows of lockdown. With the youngest entrant aged just four, and the oldest 75, submissions expressed divergent experiences touching upon loneliness, grief and gratitude.


Anthony Owens’ cousin Declan prepares meals for his community in the winning image

Snapshots of poignant moments poured in from primary schools to care homes, and included a picture of meals being prepared at Antonio’s. Originally intended to keep local donors updated on the team’s progress, Anthony says he was “busier than ever” and “had no idea the photo had been sent in” by his team until he received the exciting news this week.

As one of only three Greater Manchester finalists, Anthony hopes that the image captures the “spirit of Manchester”, keen to recognise the community support that made his project possible. He said: “Anyone who lives here knows it’s just the spirit of the place, everyone is so friendly and really came together to support each other.”

Antonio’s team have been inundated with messages of thanks and support from their community over recent weeks as Middleton adapts to the ‘new normal’. The delivery service has been able to wind down and the takeaway reopen, their snapshot of unity and generosity a timeless piece of an era-defining exhibition.

You can view the full exhibition online here.