Plan to make taxi drivers Norwich ambassadors

Jon WelchTaxi drivers, hotel staff and other volunteers will be recruited to become 'ambassadors' for Norwich as part of a scheme to improve visitors' first impressions of the city.Jon Welch

Taxi drivers, hotel staff and other volunteers will be recruited to become 'ambassadors' for Norwich as part of a scheme to improve visitors' first impressions of the city.

Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (Heart) is looking for people to act as passionate champions for the city and to pass on their enthusiasm and knowledge.

Heart had talks with tourism body VisitNorwich last year about the scheme, and hopes to set up half-day training sessions in the next few months with a view to having the ambassadors in place by the summer.

Last week tourism chiefs in Great Yarmouth revealed a similar scheme to recruit cabbies as 'travelling information centres' to put out positive messages about the resort and tell visitors about forthcoming events.

Heart hopes to recruit 200 ambassadors in the first two years of the scheme. Among the information they might share with visitors are facts about the city's 'firsts', including the first all-metal aeroplane made in the UK and the country's first driving school.

Historical figures such as prison reformer Elizabeth Fry and Lady Julian, the first woman to write a book in English, may also warrant a mention, along with events such as the Lord Mayor's Celebrations and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

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The scheme is being developed as part of a European Union-funded project, effectively twinning Norwich with the historic Belgian city of Ghent.

Last year Heart secured funding �1.06m from the EU's European Regional Development Fund to develop its Norwich 12 project, marketing the city's most important historic buildings, with Ghent in a cultural tourism initiative called Shaping 24.

It believes the ambassador scheme will be most interesting and relevant to taxi drivers, front-line hotel staff and people working at information points in the city's shopping centres.

Later there could be a role for ordinary members of the public.

Michael Loveday, chief executive of Norwich Heart said: 'Initial testing of the water has revealed a great deal of enthusiasm from hotels and some taxi companies in the city.

'The first impression that a visitor gets of a place is often in the 15-minute taxi ride from the arrival point to their first destination - that can either make or break their feeling about the place. We would like to make that experience as positive and rich as possible.'

Steve Royal, secretary of Norwich Hackney Trade Association, welcomed the scheme. 'It's an excellent idea,' he said.

'I've made it my business to find out a lot of facts about Norwich and often share them with passengers. For instance, I'll tell them that Norwich was once renowned for having a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week. 'I tell them about the two cathedrals and the fact that apart from Salisbury, ours is the tallest one. I usually get a good reaction.

'Most taxi drivers are proud of Norwich and I'm certain more than 50 per cent will love this.'

Anyone interested in finding out more about the scheme is asked to contact Sophie Harrison at Heart by emailing or phoning 01603 599578.

Are you doing anything to make Norwich more attractive to visitors? Email or telephone 01603 772476.