Norwich in lockdown: A longing for normality tempered by caution
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
By lunchtime on Wednesday, the morning's rain showers had passed over and Norwich's marketplace basked in the warm glow of spring sunshine.
There are still almost two weeks until the next planned relaxation of the current lockdown, with the 'rule of six' set to come back into force for outdoor gatherings from March 29.
And it's more than a month until 'non-essential' shops can open their doors again, along with hairdressers, salons and the outdoor sections of pubs and restaurants.
But still, the city centre was by no means empty. There were plenty of people milling about along Gentleman's Walk, some there specifically to visit those shops and market stalls which have remained open, and others simply to enjoy a brisk walk in the brighter weather.
The Pinniger family, for example, who live in Norwich, had chosen to walk in the city centre for a change of scenery – their regular exercise spots are usually more remote parts of the countryside.
Alex, Karen, Bethany and three-year-old Beatrice broke up their exercise to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat from Caffe Nero, as had many others, while there were several people also carrying Starbucks-branded wrappers and disposable cups.
Away from the high street favourites, the more independent eateries were also proving popular. Lockdown or no lockdown, sitting on the marketplace with a cone of chips or a burger will always be a much-enjoyed pastime.
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That's not to say it hasn't been difficult for these businesses, though.
Almira Jakaj has run The All Electric Banger Stop at Norwich Market for two and a half years, but coping with a dramatic drop in footfall over the last 12 months has been no easy task.
She said: "We have to pay rent in full, whether there is a lockdown or there isn't a lockdown. We have stayed open all the time because the food is takeaway, but whether it is busy or not busy there is still everything to pay, like the electricity.
"But what can I do? It is the same for all. It has been the same since last March, a whole year now."
And while she acknowledges the importance of the Covid marshals, who pound the streets with the role of encouraging people to follow the rules, she believes their heavy presence in that particular area of the city has put potential customers off.
"They come every five minutes to check masks and to say 'don't go this way, go that way'. It makes people move away. It puts them off coming through here," Mrs Jakaj added.
Across from her stall is Ron's Fish and Chips, an ever-popular lunch destination.
Manager Rob Butcher said it had been "a daily struggle" due to the drop in footfall, but felt everyone's safety was the most important thing.
He added: "I'm not one of these who just wants everything back open, I feel more cautious. We've been here before, it all opened up again and look what happened."
Back on Gentleman's Walk, one business which says it has "been absolutely fine" through lockdown is fishmongers City Fish.
On Wednesday David Beech and Stephen Boardley were welcoming a steady stream of customers keen to pick up a Norfolk lobster or a Cromer crab.
In addition to its "well-used" delivery service, Mr Boardley believes the stall's continued popularity is down to people still coming into the city centre specifically for their products.
He said: "At the moment a lot of the people we see are specifically coming here, or to the veg stalls or the butchers."
"If we've got it people will come for it, and if we don't then we'll ring up and get it for them, and people know that," Mr Beech added.
While restrictions on shops are set to suddenly lift on April 12, Mr Beech believes the building up of customer confidence will be a more gradual process.
He said: "A lot of our regulars don't want to come out, and won't come into the city. Some of them will not come back at all.
"Deliveries are going to be the way forward."