'It will bounce back' - how town is coping after one year of coronavirus

King's Lynn High Street

An almost deserted King's Lynn High Street, as shoppers heed the warnings to stay away - Credit: Chris Bishop

Stay home, say the bus shelter hoardings on the main road into King's Lynn. The deserted High Street shows the message has hit home.

Fallen leaves pile up in doorways. One shop still has Christmas messages in its windows. Others just have empty shelves. 

A year since lockdown entered our every day vocabulary, the question now is what lies ahead for our beleaguered town centres in whatever becomes the new normal.

King's Lynn high street

King's Lynn High Street has been almost deserted throughout lockdown - Credit: Chris Bishop

Lynn is pinning its hopes on landing £25m in Town Deal investment from the government to help it bounce back. A decision is expected soon.

If successful, the money would fund a wish-list which includes converting vacant floors above shops into new homes, restoring St George's Guildhall and revitalising the waterfront.

Graham Middleton, West Norfolk council's cabinet member for business in South Clough Lane, King's Ly

Graham Middleton, West Norfolk council's cabinet member for business in South Clough Lane, King's Lynn, where a perspex screen is being installed to help people socially distance Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

“It would be naïve to think that the next few years won’t be a huge challenge for the town centre and indeed high streets across the country, but we are committed to exploring funding opportunities and doing what we can to keep the town centre alive and thriving," said Graham Middleton, portfolio holder for regeneration with West Norfolk council.

"A renewal priority for the town should be to aim for more people to live in the town centre, particularly to attract new residents which will help support the vibrancy and long term sustainability of the town centre."

Be Kind sign

A sign in a shop window reminds passers-by we're all in this together - Credit: Chris Bishop

Around a fifth of traders on Lynn High Street have remained open. Takeaways, two banks, two opticians, a chemist's, a Cash Converters, an estate agent and a vape shop are among those still flying the flag. 

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Clothes stores, shoe shops, charity shops, hairdressers, bars, restaurants and cafes not offering takeaways have been closed since Christmas. Not everyone will be reopening their doors when so-called non-essential retailers can start trading again.

"We are sad to see it end like this," says the sign in the window of what was once a landmark store, thanking customers for their support. Generations of Lynners bought their suits and ties, or their shoes and dresses, from the combined branch of Burton and Dorothy Perkins that towers over the junction of New Conduit Street.

King's Lynn Burton

The former Burton and Dorothy Perkins store in King's Lynn - Credit: Chris Bishop

Last month both chains were bought by online retailer Boohoo, which announced it would "transform them into brands that are fit for the current market environment". That meant closing bricks and mortar stores.

Debenhams sits nearby, marooned like a grounded ship. While it may well have been heading for the rocks before Covid, lockdown torpedoed any hope of stores surviving.

Thousands of jobs have haemorrhaged from high streets up and down the land. Lockdown's legacy may well be more people shopping online and fewer working in towns, as the temporary home office becomes a permanent base, according to Discover King's Lynn - the town's business improvement district.

King's Lynn Debenhams

The former Debenhams department store in King's Lynn - Credit: Chris Bishop

But its manager, Vicky Etheridge, is upbeat. She said: "In the short-term, the town will bounce back well. I imagine a lot of people are going to come flocking back because there's a lot of appetite for getting out of your own house to see other people, have a coffee made by somebody else or maybe something to eat.

"In the longer term it's impossible to tell but there are opportunities for Lynn. It's a town that's got a lot of potential. There are people moving into shops as there are people moving out of them."

As if to prove her words, the buzz of power tools and workers' banter spills from an empty store being converted into a new chemist's. While lockdown dealt a hammer blow to hospitality, a new cafe and cocktail bar is opening close to Lynn Minister. Its owners describe Lynn as "a resilient town".

Amanda Arterton, who wears a visor to serve customers after reopening her furniture shop in King's L

Amanda Arterton, who wears a visor to serve customers after reopening her furniture shop in King's Lynn Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

Furniture retailer Amanda Arterton has been busy through lockdown, taking orders for sofas, beds and wardrobes via the phone and social media rather than customers browsing her showroom.

"I think we will bounce back," she said. "The government has been very good and we have been able to sell things from home and getting lots of phone calls as the shop phone is redirected to my mobile."