Footfall on the up in Norwich as shoppers return to the city
PUBLISHED: 09:16 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:38 20 August 2020
“My gut feeling is we will be better off than other UK cities, but we will still feel the pain as much as everyone else.”
That is the buoyant, but cautious, message from Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich’s Business Improvement District (BID).
Since non-essential shops opened on July 4, the city has seen a weekly footfall increase of 10,000, but Mr Gurney warned the next six to 12 months would still be tough.
He said: “We are not relying solely on the service or retail sector. There are lots of different areas to draw on which puts us in a better position.”
This includes tourism and financial services, he said, and added that more people were returning to their work offices, which would boost business.
At the heart of the coronavirus lockdown between 50,000 and 70,000 people visited the city centre each week but that leapt to 150,000 the week after non-essential stores reopened.
Last week the footfall in Norwich was 240,000 - compared to 300,000 the same time last year.
Mr Gurney added: “We are trending better than the UK at the moment.
“There is a lot of support for local businesses. People are starting to change their habits. We are encouraging people to support local businesses which are embedded locally in our community. We have always had a good mix of businesses which puts us in good stead.”
This mix includes major high street names, shopping centres intu Chapelfield and Castle Quarter and independent businesses.
He said he believed that because Norwich was one of the top 15 shopping destinations in the UK pre-Covid, national chains that would potentially close some of their stores would not do so in the fine city due to its trading reputation.
He said retailers that struggled pre-Covid were more likely to struggle now and that offices would be turned into pod-style spaces where workers could pop in when they wanted to, with others being turned into homes.
“The city will change to the needs of the customer. We want to get people to come and support the city. We have set up everything to be safe as possible,” Mr Gurney added.
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Eric Kirk, chairman of the Magdalen Street and Anglia Square area traders’ association (MATA), said the historic street, north of the city centre, had recovered quickly after the lockdown was lifted.
He said: “We are back to normal. People saw Anglia Square and Magdalen Street as a safe alternative to the city.”
Mr Kirk said the convenience stores which remained open during the lockdown had seen an uplift in trade and many people in nearby houses used the road and Anglia Square “like a corner shop”.
“It is easy to get to, lots of parking. There are a lot of terraced houses in the area and it is in walking distance. There has been a trend for people to seek other alternatives for shopping. The nice thing is in most instances people tend to stay with the alternatives,” he added.
Since non-essential shops could trade again, all but one restaurant on Magdalen Street has reopened due to space issues.
Mr Kirk added that he had seen more people using the buses, many of which stop next to Anglia Square, for work.
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Elsewhere, Jonty Young, marketing manager for Norwich Lanes, said: “Everyone is pretty happy under the circumstances. We are blessed with a lot of independents. Everyone supports each other.”
But he added trading conditions were still difficult.
My Young said shoppers were mainly from the nearby area but added there were a lot more visitors over the past week.
“It is nice seeing people with little tour maps,” he said.
He added it would not be until autumn when the full impact of Covid-19 on businesses would be revealed.
But Mr Young believed smaller businesses could adapt more quickly compared to larger businesses.
And Robert Bradley, centre manager at Castle Quarter, said: “There is a definite feeling of a return to normal, thankfully. Since lockdown ended, we have seen a week on week increase in footfall of between five and 10pc, which is very encouraging and reflects the growing confidence of visitors and the effectiveness of our social distancing and other measures across the centre. While we are not yet back to pre-lockdown figures, we are rapidly heading towards that.”
Bus boss predicts slow recovery for public transport
A bus boss has said it will be a slow recovery for people to get their confidence back and return to public transport.
Charles Sanders, managing director of Holt-based Sanders Coaches, which operates routes across north Norfolk and into Norwich, said the firm’s passenger numbers were 28pc of pre-Covid levels.
He added the majority of people using the buses were people travelling to work who had no alternative but he was expecting an uplift when schools reopen in September.
Mr Sanders said: “We had a long period when people were told not to get on public transport and that message has resonated with people. Confidence is a bit low. Until a vaccine is sorted it is going to be a slow recovery.”
A Greater Anglia spokesperson said passenger levels were currently at 30pc of pre-Covid levels.
Dereham-based Konectbus reported passenger numbers that were a third of its usual expected levels.
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