OPINION: Perception seems to be that everyone just loves Norwich!
Paul Burall of the Norwich Society looks at how the city is seen by others
It is sometimes worth reflecting on how others see us, especially if some perceptions need correcting.
For Norwich, the assumptions made about the city by people living elsewhere and revealed in a survey carried out for the Norwich Society in 2017 were revealing. Looked at from afar, Norwich was seen as ‘boring’ and offering ‘nothing to do’.
This contrasted with those who had actually moved to Norwich. Their comments included surprise at the number of high-tech jobs that were available and praise for a city that was a wonderful place to bring up a family.
In the past, Norwich has attracted both praise and criticism. Daniel Defoe visited the city during his 1724 to 1726 tour of Great Britain and found it to be "an ancient, large, rich, and populous city."
However, when, in 1754, Methodist leader Charles Wesley visited Norwich, he was appalled to find what he described as "the hill" covered with drunkards and rioters.
Others have been more complimentary. In his 1851 novel Lavengro: The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest, the writer George Borrow (who was born in East Dereham) described Norwich as "a fine old city, view it from whatever side you will; but it shows best from the east, where the ground, bold and elevated, overlooks the fair and fertile valley in which it stands".
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More recently, Norwich was chosen as the home for the unfortunate TV broadcaster Alan Partridge, created in 1991 by Armando Iannucci, who explained that the city was chosen by the writers because it was "geographically just that little bit annoyingly too far from London, and has this weird kind of isolated feel that seemed right for Alan".
Others have also commented on the city’s distance from London, with the travel blog A Lady in London commenting that "after finally getting here, my only regret is that it took me so many years to finally visit the city" and going on to describe "An amazing day of discovering all the best things to do in Norwich".
Students in particular seem to appreciate their time in Norwich.
Last year, a University of East Anglia student wrote (pre-Covid) a great review. They said: "The bus routes are perfect for getting into the city easily, and Norwich is great for shopping with a mix of branded shops and independent and quirky shops.
"Same when it comes to eating out, with lots of options including for vegetarian and vegan! Has one of the best markets in the country and the historical aspects of the city such as the castle and cathedral are truly beautiful. You will love Norwich!"
And last December a Norwich University of the Arts student wrote that he "really enjoyed my time at NUA, particularly the experience of living in Norwich - the city suits me".
In 2019, The Guardian newspaper carried a eulogy about Norwich, picking out as one highlight the Grosvenor Fish Bar where you can "soak up the booze with the best fish and chips in East Anglia... for less than £10 a head you can get a meal good enough to make you want to live for ever".
Another travel blog, Hand Luggage Only, has also praised Norwich. It said: "Just on a whim, I started reading about Norwich, partially because of Norwich City's amazing kits, and it seemed like a cool town.
"Around a two-hour drive (and the same by train) from the centre of London, the historic city of Norwich is one gorgeous city to explore."
Oddly, this blogger also highlighted the Grosvenor Fish Bar’s fish and chips, saying "we loved them so much that we ended up taking a second bag back to London with us!"
Perhaps surprisingly, the boss of Vietnam Airlines, Duong Tri Thanh, has declared himself a fan of Norwich, describing the city as being just as exciting as San Francisco or an Indonesia island.
Most of us who live here know that Norwich is a wonderful place to live and we should all do everything we can to explain its virtues.
If the city is to continue to flourish it must continue to attract the entrepreneurs and specialists who are crucial to maintaining a thriving economy that provides employment and wealth for everyone, from the scientists at the Norwich Research Park and the creative talent graduating from the University of the Arts to those who work in retailing and the catering and leisure industries.
Paul Burall is the editor of the Aspects of Norwich magazine