Why Norfolk and Suffolk are the ‘Friendly Counties’

Lost? Then just ask someone local...

Lost? Then just ask someone local... - Credit: Getty Images/Purestock

Unfriendly Norfolk and Suffolk? Not a bit of it, if Nick Conrad's experiences are anything to go by.

Is there something in the water in South Norfolk and North Suffolk? People who live there are so darn nice. Two recent experiences have led me to this whopping generalisation.

Firstly, inhabitants of the locality must be some of the most polite people in Britain. I was in Stowmarket last week on a delightful early summer's evening. I don't know the town particularly well. After receiving very helpful directions from one resident, who advised on the best place to park, I wandered through the street to the event I was attending. Everyone I passed smiled and said 'Good evening'. How delightful! Now this isn't London... strangers do greet each other, but I was taken aback by the willingness to engage.

Stowmarket, though a delightful market town, is probably not a major tourist attraction (Museum of East Anglian Life aside). Its quaint little streets, historic architecture and charming centre will always be the poorer brother to neighbouring Bury St Edmunds. That said, its subtle charm is heightened by the warmth extended towards the 'foreigner' who ventures into the settlement.

And Diss might give the mid-Suffolk town a run for the friendliness title. I was a little lost while trying to seek out the village of Oakley. Trundling down the A140, I was confused which turning I should take. In the end I darted off the trunk road down a little country lane. A sporty little car swung off behind me, overtaking as I pulled into a lay-by. I confess I was travelling at a reduced speed - I started to fret, had I'd forgotten to indicate? My fears appeared to be confirmed when the 'sporty car' abruptly stopped, reversed and ominously the passenger window lowered. Anticipating a volley of profanities and a robust evaluation of my driving style, I was surprised to be greeted with the exact opposite!

'Hello mate,' said a young gentleman in a friendly tone. 'You were driving as if lost. Can I help?' he continued.

I have countless other examples of how kind we can be. I'm highlighting this because we do have a reputation for being unwelcoming, almost cold. I was at a conference last year where the 'attitude' of local people was raised as a serious issue for businesses wishing to invest in East Anglia. The claim, thought contestable, is that Norfolk and Suffolk folk are insular and suspicious. You may expect me to offer a robust defence of our community – but, sadly, I can see this from both perspectives.

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I detest the 'draw up the bridge' and 'shun outsiders' attitude. It is incompatible with our collective and progressive desire to encourage more people into Norfolk to help strengthen our economic hand. It's counter-productive to our pursuit of better infrastructure and increased investment from government. I hope and suggest my evidence above, proves the old attitude is fading out.

The late AA Gill may have unfairly referred to us as the 'hernia on the end of England' (and worse) but it would be naive to suggest this belief was confined to one individual. We're fighting an unwanted, but maybe not entirely unwarranted, external image of us.

I cringe at the very notion it's credible to preserve a utopian 1950s Norfolk, spurning all things modern. I also dislike this attitude when presented as prejudice or hostility towards anything 'new' or that hasn't originated in 'Norfolk'. My recent experience reaffirms my belief that we're moving in a progressive direction.