How is King's Lynn town centre bouncing back from the pandemic?
- Credit: Chris Bishop
The pandemic has hit our high streets badly, but are they beginning to bounceback? Chris Bishop visits Lynn town centre to find out.
In the window of an empty shop, an old framed picture shows a very different kind of High Street.
Bygone King's Lynn is all a-bustle with shoppers, with not an empty shop in sight.
Today's a different story, after retailers large and small have abandoned the town leaving just 'To Let' signs in their windows.
"Our problem is everything's shutting around us," said Bernadette Chappell, who has run Deck of Cards at the Minster end of the High Street for 15 years after moving from a smaller shop in Norfolk Street.
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"Obviously there's still some other places down here but 70pc of it's shut down. It's very different trading. Thankfully, we've got our own customers who still come down to us, our regulars are still supporting us.
"They need to brighten up the High Street, try to get more shops to move in. And during the week, say on a Wednesday or something, have some free parking. If you go to Fakenham or Swaffham it's free."
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Arterton's furniture shop, part and parcel of the High Street for 30 years, has closed next door with the retirement of its owners. Music no longer wafts out onto the street from its showroom.
Across the road Marks and Spencer remains empty. There was talk of opening it up as an indoor market for pop-ups and start-ups but nothing has so far materialised.
Burton and Dorothy Perkins, which has also decamped, remains empty, with render crumbling from its four-storey facade and buddleia sprouting on its roof.
On his pitch by Boots across the street, busker Graham Warwick is strumming the opening chords of Babe I'm Gonna Leave you by Led Zeppelin.
There is talk of another retail chain dong just that. But Mr Warwick, who has entertained Lynn shoppers for more than 15 years, is upbeat.
"I think people are getting more confident," he said. "I'm definitely making more money now. Sometimes when there aren't so many people about they put more in."
Lynn shouldn't be singing the blues for too much longer, with a town deal with the government throwing £25m in regeneration funding in the hat.
Vision King's Lynn, which is behind the bid, says it is "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to access investment to transform King’s Lynn so it becomes a place of choice and fulfils its potential as a sub-regional centre".
A wish-list of projects has now been submitted to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
It includes looking at converting vacant premises, 'greening' the town centre, refurbishing the Guildhall of St George, improving walking and cycling routes, and giving the riverfront a facelift.
Between now and June 2022, a detailed case will be drawn up for each different element, including more public consultation. Greening the town centre - planting trees and improving the environment - will be fast-tracked.
"It is very slow, this is my opinion, not an official opinion," said councillor Andy Tyler, who was out doing his shopping. "The issue is making certain what is provided for people is what they want."
In its latest update, Vision King's Lynn says it has focused on looking at how Lynn's so-called public realm and buildings could be improved.
"The route from the railway station to the riverfront has been agreed as the focus, with ideas such as new and upgraded seating, artwork, greening, and opportunities for pop-ups. A long list of suggestions will be produced with community engagement."
Some retailers are aiming straight for shoppers' pockets to entice them back into town and through their doors.
One clothing store was offering 70pc off. Naked mannequins in the window of another preserved their plastic modesty with Final Reductions placards, while around the corner it was 'buy two, get one free'.