'I've missed the faces': Wymondham businesses back with a bang

From left, Mike and Jack Sampson, Michelle Rodrigues and Brendan Gray.

From left, Mike and Jack Sampson of The Gentleman Barbers, Wardrobes of Wymondham owner Michelle Rodrigues and Brendan Gray, who runs the Station Bistro. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

For the first time in a long while, there was a real buzz in the air in Wymondham's Market Street.

Buoyed by the bright sunshine, shoppers wasted no time in visiting the town centre after 'non-essential' businesses were allowed to open their doors for the first time in 2021.

The lines outside the banks and the civilised queue to pick up fresh baked goods from Merv's are nothing new, but the optimism and confidence in the air was something which has been sorely missed.

So many people are relieved to be able to visit their favourite independent traders again – and those who run said businesses have been counting down the days until their return.

We visited a few of them to find out what it means.


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The café

Brendan Gray's 14 months in charge of the Station Bistro have been far from what he had planned – the restaurant has been limited to takeaways for nine of them.

Brendan Gray and his team have revamped the Station Bistro in Wymondham.

Brendan Gray and his team have revamped the Station Bistro in Wymondham, adding extra outdoor seating in the garden by the rail track. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

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And while many other businesses like his can't open until at least May 17 because of limited or no outside seating, Mr Gray is relieved he had the apparent foresight to address that issue.

A year ago the garden to the side of the rail track had been "completely overgrown", but it has been cleared and doubled in size, while tables, gazebos and a disabled access ramp have been added to massively increase capacity.

He said: "I know I'm fairly lucky here, to have what is probably one of the bigger gardens in Wymondham. Over the next few weeks we can make the most of it – I'm just praying on the weather really."

Brendan Gray and his team have revamped the Station Bistro in Wymondham.

Brendan Gray and his team have revamped the Station Bistro in Wymondham, adding extra outdoor seating in the garden by the rail track. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

The bistro was fully booked for its first day back open on Thursday, with many more enquiries made for the coming days by "the really supportive community".

"It hasn't been the ideal start to the year at all, but thankfully we're still here and we can push on now," he added.

The clothes shop

After ordering winter stock in October and having to close for a month in November and again from Christmas onwards, Michelle Fernandes's winter season lasted three weeks.

Michelle Rodrigues has run Wardrobes of Wymondham for 22 years.

Michelle Rodrigues has run Wardrobes of Wymondham for 22 years. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

She runs Wardrobes of Wymondham in Fairland Street, which opened up again on Monday after a full refurbishment during lockdown.

"New flooring, walls, fixtures to make it all nice, bright and modern," said Mrs Fernandes.

"I've tried to put the time and the grants to good use. You can't do it when you're open."

She has run the shop for 22 years, and her time on the high street and "brilliant, loyal" customer base meant she was never worried they would come back after four months away.

Michelle Rodrigues has run Wardrobes of Wymondham for 22 years.

Michelle Rodrigues has run Wardrobes of Wymondham for 22 years. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

"On Monday I didn't even have a cup of tea until three o'clock, it was manic. There was a really nice steady flow that kept me busy all day.

"I wasn't sure how quickly people would come back but it's nice to see the amount of people we've had on the high street already. I think this will be really good for independents in the long run, but we do have to work at it."

The barbers

The Sampson brothers have been extremely busy since restrictions eased, after being inundated with walk-in clients along with their fully-booked times slots all week.

Mike and Jack Sampson, The Gentleman Barbers, have been cutting hair in their modified caravan in Ayton Road, Wymondham.

Mike and Jack Sampson, The Gentleman Barbers, have been welcoming customers back to their modified caravan in Ayton Road, Wymondham. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

They've been trimming people's lockdown hair from a specially modified caravan in Ayton Road, and have had no problems encouraging people to come back.

"There's not anything we need to worry about anyone who comes through the door, we can tackle anything," said elder brother Mike.

"The only thing is at the moment every haircut is taking twice as long because people have twice as much hair!"

The focus for now is on returning to a routine, but Mike and Jack have plenty of plans for the future.

"We have 25 care homes on our books. The plan is to work here most of the time, but head out on the road every Tuesday so that we cover all the care homes every six weeks.

Mike and Jack Sampson, The Gentleman Barbers, have been cutting hair in their modified caravan in Ayton Road, Wymondham.

Mike and Jack Sampson, The Gentleman Barbers, have been welcoming customers back to their modified caravan in Ayton Road, Wymondham. - Credit: Daniel Moxon

"It means we can make a living and we can still cover the care homes which is what we're passionate about and is a big part of our lives."

And they are also hoping to have a mobile service running by the end of the year, through which they will visit villages which do not have a barber so people no longer have to head elsewhere for a trim.

""For now, we just need to settle down for a while and make sure we're not going to have to stop working again. We're fortunate to have had something to come back to, and not everyone has been so lucky."

The reaction

The town's mayor Kevin Hurn was one of those relieved to be able to do his shopping in the town again, and was pleased to see footfall on the rise – in a responsible way.

"It is great to see the shops opening up again with a vibrancy around the town on Monday, but shoppers were being sensible," he said.

"Whilst the town was much busier it was good to see that people used the whole day rather than all rushing to the shops at 9am as happened in some towns and cities."

And Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, whose constituency office is based in Wymondham, took to social media to voice his delight to see so many more businesses open their doors.

He said: "After a long hard tough winter it’s wonderful to see the shops and High Streets across Dereham, Wymondham, Watton, Hingham and Attleborough re-opening again.

"It may not be warm outside – but our local economy is warming up again. Hallelujah."

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