Search

End of an era as Coltishall Naafi closes

PUBLISHED: 07:30 30 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:07 22 October 2010

RICHARD BATSON

Another nail will be hammered into the coffin lid of doomed RAF Coltishall today as its historic corner shop closes. The Naafi has helped feed and water generations of service men and women, in line with its roots of providing “char and wads” for wartime troops.

Another nail will be hammered into the coffin lid of doomed RAF Coltishall today as its historic corner shop closes.

The Naafi has helped feed and water generations of service men and women, in line with its roots of providing “char and wads” for wartime troops.

Its shop outside the Norfolk air base will finally clear its shelves and lock up at lunchtime today - ending more than half a century of service, just like the airfield next door.

Shop boss George Robertson said it would be an “emotional moment” after his own 43-year career with the Naafi in Germany and Norfolk.

But with only 400 of the original 1500 Coltishall personal left in the station housing, and removal vans leaving virtually daily, the store had lost most of its customers.

The closure and dozen redundancies is the latest sign of the “draw down” of the base towards a closure by the end of the year.

Mr Robertson said the shop was popular with local service families - providing snacks, video hire, a lottery machine and a post office. But there was also a smattering of local people who used it, including pensioners without transport, who would now have problems getting their groceries.

The shop had really been thriving in recent years, having been part of the Spar chain since 1990 - switching from an office hours facility to an “open all hours one” and turning from a loss-making to a profit-making venture, explained Mr Robertson, who took it over a year earlier.

The Naafi had moved from char and wads to beer and baguettes in recent years, but still provided vital RAF supplies such as copies of the RAF News and packs of Naafi tea bags.

Trade had gradually been dropping off as personnel got other postings, said Mr Robertson who felt the closure of the base and shop were sad.

The building is being left fitted out in case it has another life when the housing and base are sold off and new local residents and workers move in.

Meanwhile, inside the station gates another shop has opened to try to plug the gap left by the closure.

A former police station has been renamed The Cop Shop - and stocked with essential supplies from soap to noodles, along with a hot snack bar - all being manned by volunteers, with any profits going to charity.

Commanding officer Wing Cdr Paul Robins said more than half the station buildings were now closed down, including its bowling alley and pool, while messes were gradually being merged.

There had been a conscious effort to hold social events to keep morale up and the station staff focused, he added.

“When the aircraft left, so did the focus of people's activities, and we noticed people were staying in their own sections and getting isolated.

“So we have started regular coffee drops in, barbecues, and charity events - and the morale is very buoyant.”

The Cop Shop was an example of the kind of initiative and leadership being shown as the staff coped with the changes leading to closure.

Plans were ahead of schedule, added Wing Cdr Robins. By August there would be a “steady state” of 250 people left to see Coltishall through to its final days at the end of November.

Significant moments before then would be a poignant final Battle of Britain Day for what was the last surviving operational Battle of Britain station until its planes flew away in April, and removal of the gate guardian Jaguar and Hurricane aircraft.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press