More people visiting their high street compared to first lockdown

Shoppers making the most of the weekends before Christmas.

Shoppers making the most of the weekends before Christmas. - Credit: Archant

Norwich is better prepared for exiting the current lockdown, experts have revealed, with businesses opening their Covid-secure offices this month instead of having them closed as seen in previous lockdowns.  

This has meant that vital foot traffic is still being provided for businesses operating in the city centre – suggesting that they may be able to bounce back quicker than other regions.  

The city is still extremely quiet when compared to this time last year, with footfall down 82pc compared to January 2020.  

Stefan Gurney of the Norwich BID said: “The 82pc drop in footfall is dramatic against last year, and puts in clear terms the perilous position our business community is in. The positive is that Norwich is taking the guidance seriously and people are staying at home, and looking after one another.  

“Hard as this most recent lockdown is, keeping people safe and easing the pressures on our local NHS services is critical. The challenge now is to ensure that business are getting the financial support they need in order to survive.” 

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However early indications do suggest that companies have gained insight into how to open their offices safely when compared to the then-unknown circumstances in March.  

Major employers in the city centre like Aviva, which employs around 4,000 people out of its offices in Surrey Street, have stayed open to a limited extent where previously they were closed.  

Aviva building on Surrey Street, NorwichPHOTO: Nick Butcher

Aviva's offices are now open in a Covid-safe way for employees who need it. - Credit: Nick Butcher

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A spokesman for the insurance giant said that although the majority work from home the offices are open and are “Covid-safe for those who need to be in the office for work-critical or mental health reasons”.  

Naked Wines which employs hundreds of people out of its offices in St Stephens Road, echoed this by saying: "We took rapid action to get all of our staff working from home safely and comfortably during the first lockdown last March. 

Naked Wines, Norwch, has seen a spike in revenue because of lockdown. Pic: Archant

Naked Wines, Norwch, has seen a spike in revenue because of lockdown. Pic: Archant - Credit: Archant

“Since then, we've made our offices Covid-safe which has allowed us to offer flexibility to colleagues that needed the office space to do their work.” 

Norfolk County Council has taken similar measures at County Hall which was previously shut entirely, a spokesman said: “The county council is following government advice, where the majority of office staff who are able to work from home are doing so, with the appropriate support. 

Norfolk County Council at County Hall in Norwich

Norfolk County Council at County Hall in Norwich - Credit: Archant

“For those teams that continue to need an office base, the county council has put social distancing and cleaning arrangements to ensure they can work in a Covid-secure manner.” 

Data also shows that more people in cities and towns across Norfolk has increased footfall in retail environments.  

According to statistics from Google footfall in retail and recreation was down 61pc last week compared to –83pc in the March lockdown.  

Likewise trips to grocery shops and pharmacies across Norfolk was down 43pc in the first lockdown, and is now only down 23pc. 

Breaking this down further with the exception of Norwich city centre, north Norfolk high streets have seen the largest drop in footfall at –61pc and Great Yarmouth at –57pc.  

The increase in confidence from the business community bodes well for the city when it comes out of lockdown, said researcher Valentine Quinio of the Centre for Cities.  

She said: “What we have seen in previous lockdowns is that larger cities: London, Manchester, Birmingham and so on, have been much slower to recover than smaller cities. It is perhaps because of the types of office space they have but also because of the commutes people need to take to get to their offices.  

“In smaller cities people are able to drive to work which makes them feel safer, and so they have the confidence to travel into city centres which they might not otherwise.” 

She said: “This has a huge impact on other businesses in the city centre – we have seen the cities with the highest levels of office worker footfall often have the healthiest high streets. This is because they generate cashflow for businesses by going in to buy a sandwich in their lunch hour, or popping to the shop when otherwise they might buy online.  

“When things return to a level of normal they also generate spend by having drinks on a Friday or meeting a friend for dinner after work. This is preferable to having all your footfall on a weekend as it spreads out the demand and the incoming cash for the business.” 

She added: “I think we will see a change in the way offices operate anyway in the next few years. I think it’s reasonable to predict that people might start working two or three days in the office instead of all five which could result in more shared working spaces – a trend which we’re starting to see already.  

“I don’t think that offices will cease to exist purely because we know people often work better when they’re around others – I think we’ll see a change in office footfall as opposed to a drop in the future.” 

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