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Christmas is coming - shoppers start early as uncertain December looms

Traders in Norwich say they will keep the Christmas spirit alive in a challenging year. Photos: Angela Sharpe, Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral and Sonya Duncan

Traders in Norwich say they will keep the Christmas spirit alive in a challenging year. Photos: Angela Sharpe, Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral and Sonya Duncan

Archant

Christmas is little over two months away. But with the rule of six staying put for the foreseeable and cases rising, how is Norwich gearing up for the festive season?

The Tunnel of Light as the Norwich Christmas lights are switched on. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Tunnel of Light as the Norwich Christmas lights are switched on. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

• Christmas - and New Year - parties

Even the lowest level of the government’s three tiers means the 10pm curfew and rule of six could remain in place over the festive period.

It has forced the hospitality sector to rethink popular events which traditionally draw in big crowds, including office Christmas parties.

Georgina Postlethwaite, sales manager at the Maids Head Hotel in Tombland, said by the time lockdown started they were fully booked for two thirds of their Christmas events.

“We couldn’t believe it, how people were booking this year on the back of last year,” she said. “Then we had the rug pulled from under us.”

They will instead host smaller supper clubs and tasting menus (themed around their head chef Marcin ‘Magic’ Pomierny, who was recently a finalist in a national competition), deliver picnics and afternoon teas to workplaces for an alternative office do and alter their New Year’s Eve celebration.

After it comes to a close at 10pm, new plans could see guests given a cheese board to take to their rooms, and a glass of champagne as the clock strikes midnight.

At the Cottage in Thorpe St Andrew, Ian Perry said many of their December events had also been booked by January.

Tunnel of Light on Hayhill, Norwich. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYTunnel of Light on Hayhill, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

But the pandemic has seen their New Year’s Eve party altered, evening events involving live performances cancelled and four coach-loads of people going to the Thursford Spectacular also scrapped.

He said the impact on trade would be “huge”, but that they were determined to make the best of it and continue the celebration.

• Festive lights

Norwich’s usual lights switch-on won’t be going ahead, it was confirmed earlier this week, though the city will still be illuminated.

But the tunnel of light, one of its most popular Christmas attractions, is due to return from November 12 to January 5.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), said safety messages will be in place and people will be asked to walk on the left hand side, ensure they are socially distanced and avoid lingering so as to not overcrowd the area.

“We want to create that sense of wonder, he said. “We want it to feel like Christmas, while we are ensuring the safety measures.”

He said the BID also hoped to display Christmas projections on Norwich Castle once again in five-minute shows..

• Markets and events

Social distancing measures mean plenty of events have been pushed back a year, including the Norwich Theatre Royal’s 2020 Dick Whittington and His Cat panto. It will instead stage A Right Royal Christmas, three socially distanced shows.

Some events will go ahead, including the Norfolk Christmas Fayre at the Norfolk Showground and My First Panto: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, at The Garage in Norwich.

The city’s Open Christmas, which usually feeds hundreds of people who would have nowhere else to go, says it will also go ahead, though in which form is yet to be decided.

And at Norwich Cathedral, the Dean of Norwich, the Very Revd Jane Hedges, said Advent and Christmas would still be celebrated there.

“Current regulations allow our wonderful choir to sing once more and so, among other things, we look forward to our choir singing carols at many of our festive services,” she said, adding that more details would be posted on its website nearer the time.

The very reverend Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich. Photograph: Norwich Cathedral/Bill SmithThe very reverend Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich. Photograph: Norwich Cathedral/Bill Smith

• Shopping

A national retail sales monitor has pointed to Christmas shopping being behind a rise in shopping in September as the festive season appears on the horizon.

Last month, Linzers bakery in Norwich said it had seen mince pies fly off the shelves early as customers looked for a “feel good factor”.

And it seems we might be looking for the same as the shops - Leanne Fridd, at Bookbugs and Dragon Tales bookshop on Timber Hill, said they’d seen some shoppers start their shopping early, with advent calendars proving popular.

Mr Gurney said footfall in Norwich had dipped slightly since the latest restrictions came into force, but that it was about 75pc of what it was last year.

Normally, it hovers around 310,000 people a week, and currently sits at around 240,000.

“People have started preparing for Christmas already,” he said, “we are seeing people shopping and doing it over a longer period of time. People understand there will be a reduced capacity in shops and on transport to get into the city.”

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District (BID). Photo: Sonya DuncanStefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District (BID). Photo: Sonya Duncan

But he said he felt there would be more consideration over what and where people bought, and encouraged shoppers to “reconnect with the local community”.

At Lisa Angel, which has shops intu Chapelfield and Lower Goat Lane and a concession in Topshop, head of marketing Hayley Salisbury said they had seen an early rush of festive shoppers.

It came after longer than usual interest around other occasions, including Easter and Halloween.

“We have definitely seen a rise already in Christmas shopping,” she said. “People don’t know what it will look like so there is uncertainty. They don’t really know if they’ll see their loved ones.”

She said shifts in buying had reflected the current situation, with homeware and occasion decorations proving popular as people spent more time inside.

Paul Giles, managing director of electrical goods brands Snelling and Gerald Giles, said they had also seen the early start, and said it had become more common due to events like Black Friday.

“We have been growing our online business this year as a direct result of the pandemic restricting people’s movements and will continue to do this as we do not want our showrooms to be overcrowded - although we are likely to open on Sundays in the run up to Christmas to give people more options,” he said.

Cooking and baking products had proved particularly popular, he said, as well as smart televisions.

The Christmas lights at the Assembly House. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Christmas lights at the Assembly House. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

• The big day

If restrictions remain at the same level, the rule of six will limit places around the dinner table.

At Archer’s butchers on Norwich’s Plumstead Road, as well as gearing up for a move towards smaller turkeys and hampers, Jamie Archer said more intimate gatherings would lead to a shift in orders.

“It’s going to be more work for the same amount of revenue,” he said. “We are going to sell the same amount of meat to more people.”

He said they would concentrate efforts on taking, processing and preparing orders as quickly as possible, with plans to close their next door takeaway and turn it into a collection point.

The Christmas lights at City Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Christmas lights at City Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY


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