Rush for pavement licences as cafe culture comes to city

The barriers in place to restrict traffic in St Benedicts Street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Traffic has been restricted along St Benedicts Street to allow for more outdoor seating. - Credit: Denise Bradley

It is a lifestyle you would likely associate most with the cities, towns and resorts of mainland Europe.

But is the Covid-19 pandemic becoming the inadvertent driving force behind café culture and al fresco dining becoming a firmer part of city life on these shores as well?

On April 12, pubs, cafés and restaurants will be allowed to re-open to seated customers once more - providing they sit outside.

But even before this date we have seen efforts made to better accommodate outdoor dining and socialising in Norwich - and it may well be becoming a more regular component of city life.

The warmer weather in the city encouraging shoppers and workers outside for an alfresco lunch. Pictu

The warmer weather in the city encouraging shoppers and workers outside for an alfresco lunch. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Denise Bradley

The pandemic has forced more and more businesses to look at ways of thinking outside of their four walls and offering an outdoor experience.

Among these is The Vine pub and Thai restaurant on Dove Street in Norwich, which is hopeful of securing a licence to place additional seating on the pavement.

However, with space outside the premises, known to be one of Norwich's smallest pubs, limited, owner Aey Allen has called upon the good spirit of a neighbouring business to use some of their space too.

Aey Allen, owner of The Vine pub and Thai restaurant in Norwich, said she had lost half of her lunchtime trade due to Tier...

Aey Allen, owner of The Vine pub and Thai restaurant in Norwich, said she had lost half of her lunchtime trade due to Tier 2 restrictions. Picture: Louisa Baldwin - Credit: Archant

She approached the owners of sporting goods store Ten-Eighty to make use of the walkway in front of their shop window - and they were more than happy to oblige.

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She said: "I'm really chuffed with them - I wasn't too hopeful when I suggested it but they were just brilliant. They saw how it could benefit both of us and this is just what neighbours are for.

"I probably would never have thought of doing this before, as we were more used to indoor eating, but there is no way I would be able to cover costs without it."

The move would allow Mrs Allen to more than double the amount of customers she can serve outdoors, with the site currently only able to provide enough seating for two tables outside.

She added: "I really hope we do see more outdoor seating in the city, it just makes the streets feel so much more lively, will help the economy, help business and help mental wellbeing."

And decision-makers at City Hall have equally made moves to help create opportunities for outdoor dining in the city, agreeing last year to fast-track applications and facilitating closures of roads such as St Benedicts Street and Exchange Street to free up more space.

To date, 40 pavement licences have been granted, including those which have been in place since last summer and the council has seen a real spike in applications since the release of the government's roadmap.

While these licences are temporary - due to run until September 2022 - it remains to be seen whether the city will grow more accustomed to this way of living in the coming months.

And similarly, 36 hospitality businesses in the city centre now hold licences to put tables and chairs on public highways - on top of those with their own gardens and existing outdoor spaces.

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: "We want to support our local businesses as much as possible to add outdoor drinking and dining options.

"We have a really quick application process to assess requests and welcome applications.

"We will also help businesses on any guidance around safely welcoming customers back."

And the city has also seen a swathe of pop-up events and further outdoor offerings, such as the Norwich Junkyard Market which is set to return later this year and various street food offerings.

Paul Burrall, vice chair of the Norwich Society. Pic: Norwich Society.

Paul Burrall, vice chair of the Norwich Society. Pic: Norwich Society. - Credit: Norwich Society

Paul Burrell, of civic watchdog the Norwich Society, said he could see the city embracing the café culture lifestyle.

He said: "I think it will probably quite suit Norwich as there are already lots of pedestrianised areas. 

"The people of Norwich are generally very open to new ideas and I suspect it would also be something we as the Norwich Society could support as well."

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