City's outdoor spaces still feeling the love after lockdown

Suzi Clarke, centre, is out meeting with friends at Mousehold for the first time after shielding dur

Mousehold has seen a continued flow of visitors following the coronavirus lockdown Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Norwich's outdoor spaces are still reaping the benefits of their lockdown renaissances - with the secret well and truly out about their charms.

During the height of last year's coronavirus lockdown, people became more au fait with their local, outdoor surroundings as they took in their daily exercise as part of the restrictions.

It saw people flock to parks and other outdoor spaces, with other places people would ordinarily gather off-limits, while travel restrictions also saw them unable to cast their nets as wide when choosing where they visited.

This is what Catton Park's bench looked like before it was vandalised.

This is what the bench looked like before it was vandalised. - Credit: Bill Smith

And now, while places like pubs, restaurants and other haunts for get-togethers are re-opening, parks appear to have permanently forced their way into people's thinking when arranging plans.

Sarah Vincent, of the Catton Park Trust, said the 70-acre site saw its visitor numbers increase tenfold during the height of the pandemic - and that it was still seeing significantly greater footfall now compared with the pre-pandemic period.

She said: "It has really increased the awareness of the park and all its delights. We've heard from people who lived nearby and didn't even know it existed but are now regular visitors.

"I think we have seen it slightly drop off compared with last year, but our footfall is definitely up significantly on the pre-pandemic figures.

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"We haven't been able to have parkruns which brings a lot of people in, but it does just seem that people are more aware that we're there."

And a similar experience has been felt by one of the city's hidden gems, Plantation Gardens, which is nestled in the city centre close to the Roman Catholic cathedral.

The Plantation Garden. Photo: Bill Smith

The Plantation Garden. - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

Roger Connah, of the Friends of Plantation Gardens, said that the site had seen a 40pc increase in the number of paying visitors and that its membership had swollen to around 1,000 people.

He said: "I think people have now got used to finding us and making use of the garden as the peaceful oasis it is. We saw a significant increase during the lockdown and now we are seeing far more people using us than before the pandemic.

"I think people are continuing to make use of the outdoor spaces as there is still some concern about the virus.

Roger Connah, chairman of the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, by the entrance to Plantation Ga

Roger Connah, chairman of the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, by the entrance to Plantation Garden Picture: Luke Powell - Credit: Archant

"People still feel safe being in the open air and that is very understandable - and I think because people have got used to the outdoors they are appreciating it much more."

And this was also reflected at one of the city's most historically significant beauty spots - Mousehold Heath - which 472 years ago provided the backdrop for Kett's Rebellion.

A report going before the Mousehold Conservators this week states that the heath saw a fivefold increase in demand for its open space and had been receiving positive feedback from its visitors.

Mousehold Heath has been awarded its first Green Flag. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mousehold Heath has been awarded its first Green Flag. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

The report reads: "People who may have driven to the coast or countryside were using the heath, and appreciating more than ever, the positive impact of having safe and accessible green space on their doorstep.

"For many people, the new normal is more locally-focused and the heath has continued to see an increased number of visitors through the year, even when lockdowns haven’t been in place.

"This year, more than ever, the site has provided the community with space to escape, space to unwind and space to reflect on the events of 2020-21 and enjoy the natural world in a safe environment."

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said: We’re delighted that so many of our residents have discovered or made the most of their local park and the open green spaces across Norwich during the pandemic, and to take advantage of them for exercise, connecting with nature and play. 

“As we’ve moved out of lockdown we’ve been able to expand the facilities available as well, such as opening up the splash pad at Waterloo Park and investing in new play equipment at the Bowers Avenue play park.

“We encourage people to continue to enjoy these spaces across the city while remembering to stay safe and protect Norwich.”