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Community leaders hail “mini-renaissance’ in St Augustine’s, Norwich

St Augustine's church and street.  Photo: Bill Smith

St Augustine's church and street. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2012

Community leaders in one of Norwich’s most historic streets are welcoming a “mini-renaissance” as new shops and projects start up in the area.

In the past month, several new businesses and enterprises have opened in St Augustine’s, near Anglia Square.

For many years the area, located in the shadow of Anglia Square’s derelict office blocks, has been blighted by empty shops and businesses.

But its fortunes have been picking up since the opening of the one-way system and businesses are hoping that the street could now rediscover some of its former prosperity.

Adrian Holmes, ward councillor for Mancroft, which includes St Augustine’s, praised the community spirit in the area.

He said: “St Augustine’s is on the up as residents and traders seek to revitalise one of Norwich’s older established streets which had been in decline.

“A number of new businesses have moved in taking advantage of recent street improvements such as wider pavements and traffic calming.

“This is a great example of the community getting together to revitalise a local street with potential to benefit the wider community and helping to build a resilient local economy.”

To highlight what’s going on in the area a new Facebook site – St Augustine’s Directory – has been set up by Kate Webster, who runs Junk & Gems in the street.

She said: “The idea is to let people know what businesses are here and for more businesses to join the directory.

“The shops that are being taken look really good and the standard of shopping is hopefully picking up. Since I opened about a year ago the majority of the shopping units have been taken on, and there’s just the odd few remaining that need to be renovated before they can be let.”

One of the newcomers to the street is M&M Fishmongers, which opened about a month ago, and whose owners Melvin and Marion Robinson hope it will be as successful as the last fishmonger’s in the street, Herbert Chettleburgh’s, which used to attract queues around the block.

Mrs Robinson said: “Every week we are getting new customers in, and these customers are coming back, so it’s showing promise. Obviously, the more shops and business that open in the street, the busier it will become.”

Fellow newcomer Norfolk Funerals, which has opened in a former bridalwear showroom, is said to be the first ‘not-for-profit’ funeral directors and monumental masons in the country. There used to be two monumental masons in St Augustine’s, Woods and Arthur Hall.

Meanwhile, St Augustine’s Antique Centre is opening soon in the street, and an exhibition space, Nunns Yard, has also been opened for contemporary art and furnishings in a former newsagent’s premises.

Pat Wilshire, who is opening the new antique centre, said: “It’s picking up a bit and seems more like an up and coming area. There seems to be a lot of passing trade in the street which has been helped by the new one-way system.”

And Wray’s General Store will open later this month at the former Words Of Peace office.

This will be a working office/shop with artwork and other items for sale. Customers will have the opportunity to commission a wide range of work, from 3D design to traditional sign writing.

The former Fran’s Pantry sandwich shop is being renovated for use as a community office to be run by a new charity set up by members of the community group, St Augustine’s Gateway Enterprise, also known as The Stage. It hopes to open in the summer and will provide a valuable resource where local people can meet and develop new projects.

A spokesman for Broadland Housing Group said: “We are letting the property to St Augustine’s Gateway Trust.

“We support regeneration being a major landlord in the area and we’re pleased that regeneration is taking place.”

Another new business, Applewood estate agents, has opened in the street, and managing director Jamie Rees, who also runs Cathedral Claims next door, said: “It’s picked up since we’ve been here. I see St Augustine’s as great for advertising as so much traffic uses it. I think the new one-way system has helped. The only downfall is that businesses cannot get permits for parking, so we are always getting tickets. It would be nice to have more parking available.”

To add to the ‘feel-good’ factor the derelict children’s play area and small green space behind St Augustine’s Street off Leonard Street is being extensively renovated by Norwich City Council and is expected to reopen in October.

And the former R Yallop family footwear shop, which has been derelict for many years, was sold at auction earlier this year, and there are plans to convert it into an antiques/art centre.

Stuart McLaren, chairman of St Augustine’s Community Together Residents’ Association, said: “There’s a mini-renaissance going on in St Augustine’s Street.

“After the one-way system was completed it was quiet for a time, but now we are seeing some empty shops being taken over, and new businesses and enterprises moving in.

“However, there are still a number of shops that are either boarded up or vacant and it is hard to understand why their owners appear to be doing little or nothing about letting or selling them.”

For more information about the area visit www.staugustinesnorwich.org.uk

Is your part of Norwich getting a makeover? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk.

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