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‘Pulling together’ - How one seaside village is coping during the coronavirus lockdown

PUBLISHED: 06:30 26 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:56 26 April 2020

Spot the human being on Walcott beach during lockdown. Pictures: David Bale

Spot the human being on Walcott beach during lockdown. Pictures: David Bale

Archant

The sun is out on the north Norfolk coast, but there’s something not quite right - there are no visitors.

Walcott beach is virtually deserted during the lockdown. Pictures: David BaleWalcott beach is virtually deserted during the lockdown. Pictures: David Bale

The sun is out on the north Norfolk coast, but there’s something not quite right - there are no visitors.

Walcott is a tourist village par excellence. Over Easter and in mid-April it’s normally a magnet for tourists and visitors.

But the beaches are nearly empty, with just the occasional dog walker. And there are no families with children carrying buckets and spades and enjoying a paddle in the sea.

MORE: ‘The village is ideally placed to get through this’ - how one place is coping in lockdown

The Kingfisher fish bar in Walcott is closed during the coronavirus lockdown. Pictures: David BaleThe Kingfisher fish bar in Walcott is closed during the coronavirus lockdown. Pictures: David Bale

It’s a particular shame as Walcott could almost lay claim to the title of Norfolk’s newest beach.

The 6km-long stretch of wide, golden coastline which was created after a £19m ‘sandscaping’ project between Bacton and Walcott was officially opened in September last year.

It followed 1.8 million cubic metres of sand being pumped onto the beach to protect the villages, as well as the Bacton Gas Terminal, from flooding and erosion.

The project, carried out by the Dutch-led group Team Van Oord, was the first of its kind in the UK.

Pauline Porter, chairman of Walcott Parish Council. Picture: supplied by Pauline PorterPauline Porter, chairman of Walcott Parish Council. Picture: supplied by Pauline Porter

But the much wider and more impressive beaches make them look even more deserted.

Elsewhere, the popular restaurants and hotels lining the seafront are all closed.

Even the Kingfisher fish and chip shop, which attracts customers from far and wide, is closed.

Police have helped keep the seafront quiet, patrolling dutifully and asking people why they are not at home.

Rev Catherine Dobson. Picture: MAURICE GRAYRev Catherine Dobson. Picture: MAURICE GRAY

A popular parking spot for motorists overlooking the sea has also been cordoned off.

The coronavirus outbreak has had a cataclysmic effect on this part of the country. Norfolk is heavily dependent on the tourism trade for its economy and jobs.

Despite this, the pandemic has been widely seen as bringing out the best in some communities.

People have joined forces to help the vulnerable and elderly, and community groups have been set up to deliver food and help those who are isolated.

Pauline Porter, chairman of Walcott Parish Council, has been impressed with the community spirit.

She said: “Walcott Community Resilience Group distributed ‘here to help’ postcards to every home in the village several weeks ago.

“We have been collecting medication and doing shopping for people since lockdown. We have had copious thanks and gratitude with people saying “so good of you to do this” and “We’d be in a mess without you”.

“My husband Keith has had applause when driving away after delivering medication. But we don’t feel that we are doing anything particularly special other than taking care of others.”

She said that several people in the village had been helping out their immediate neighbours.

She added: “The Rev Catherine Dobson and her coastal parishes team are also helping people in this village and others.

“And I must mention the sterling job that HM Coastguard is doing in removing visitors from our beach. Last weekend they came across a family from London and another from Peterborough who had come to Walcott for the day.

“We are very grateful to the Kingfisher Cafe and Chip Shop for taking the decision to stop their takeaway service because they thought it would attract people to the area.”

She said there were still concerns about holidaymakers making their way to the coast, even if they were still very small in number.

She added: “People are concerned about the volume of Londoners that keep arriving for a holiday.

“People are really quite worried about the possibility of them bringing the virus with them. Approximately 62pc of our population is aged 70 or over.”

One shop in Walcott that is still open is the Mace convenience store and post office, but even there, some restrictions including social distancing are in place.

The Lighthouse Inn is also open for takeaways on some days of the week, but all orders have to be phoned over and paid by card an hour before collection at the coffee shop door.

The pub had been enjoying a new lease of life before the lockdown.

New life has been breathed into the popular coastal pub with a coffee bar opening inside.

Sisters Christina Tilsed and Kim Holt, together with their partners, took over on October 30 last year.

They have since created a new, soft seating area, redecorated much of the interior and opened a coffee bar in one of the least used parts of the pub.

The owners were determined to keep the core elements of the Coast Road pub and its menu while introducing fresh new ideas both inside and on the menu.

The church has also been important in coordinating support and help in the village.

Revd Canon Catherine Dobson, Rector, the Coastal Group, said: “The village community is really pulling together.

“Volunteer schemes from the village and church are working to support the most vulnerable here, through shopping, collecting prescriptions, a friendly phone call and a wave.

“Our local shop is also proving a lifeline to many. People miss seeing their family and friends, and worry for loved ones, but we keep connected and support one another as best we can.”

Of course, Walcott is no a stranger to difficult times. It’s well known for its propensity to be flooded.

MORE: Lockdown for everyone but the birds - how is one of our smallest communities coping?

The area was badly affected in December 2013, when almost three feet of water came onto the seafront, 300 houses were flooded and people were kept out of their houses for six months.

Bacton Gas Terminal, which supplies about 30pc of UK gas, lost half its frontage because the sea washed it away.

Last winter was the first in years that people in the village did not have to worry about flooding and more drains have been installed in the sea wall, which has helped the situation.


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