Is there something we can all learn from this transformation in Norwich?

PUBLISHED: 07:52 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:09 21 January 2020

Superbowl in the Castle Quarter has launched a Laserquest game within the children's soft play area. George Smith and Sam Lloyd having a go. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Superbowl in the Castle Quarter has launched a Laserquest game within the children's soft play area. George Smith and Sam Lloyd having a go. Picture: Ella Wilkinson


Editor David Powles looks at the changes to Norwich city centre and the rise of King’s Lynn Town Football Club.

Castle Quarter party. Picture: Angela SharpeCastle Quarter party. Picture: Angela Sharpe

Have you been in the Castle Mall in Norwich (now the Castle Quarter but old habits die hard) lately?

In recent times that's a question that would probably be followed by an exclamation of shock at how empty it was, as the shopping centre struggled with falling visitor numbers and an ever increasing number of empty outlets.

But, have you been in Norwich's Castle Quarter lately?

I have. In the last month I've visited it five times, twice to its new kids playbarn, once for the cinema and twice to take advantage of the January sales.

Castle Quarter, where former shops are being used for leisure purposes. Pic: ArchantCastle Quarter, where former shops are being used for leisure purposes. Pic: Archant

Doesn't sound like much, I know, but go back to January last year and that figure would have probably been zero - or once at best.

And judging by those recent trips it would seem I'm not alone in making an increasing number of visits, the centre seems busier than I would imagine it has been at any point during the last five years.

The future of this mall is a topic that has come up for discussion in this newsroom and subsequently on the pages of our newspaper and website for several years. Every time an outlet closed it felt like another nail in the coffin.

But fortunately, those in charge see it a different way. Instead of simply managing decline and waiting for the inevitable to happen - they've decided to fight back and to try something different.

King's Lynn Town boss Ian Culverhouse Picture: Ian BurtKing's Lynn Town boss Ian Culverhouse Picture: Ian Burt

This began with finding alternative uses for some of the empty shops. A book swap shop, table tennis, table football and a retro games centre were just some of the new additions, designed to simply get more people in there and give it more of a buzz.

These have been followed by some bigger additions, such as a new gym, bowling alley, kids playbarn and a couple of restaurants. In time the centre is moving away from just being a destination for shopping and a spot of lunch, the hope being those who head there for leisure activities, might end up spending in the shops as they arrive or leave.

Experts in the field would say this is increasingly how our shopping centres will change in the next 10 to 20 years. It is predicted our city centres will become less about somewhere to just shop, more about somewhere to relax, have fun and maybe browse for a few things that, ultimately, you might still end up buying on the internet.

They would probably also say that other towns and shopping centres could learn a lot from what is happening in the Castle Quarter.

While I don't know whether this plan is paying off in terms of cold hard cash, I think there's something bigger and more profound we can all learn about what they're doing on our very doorstep.

When the chips are down and things aren't going your way, don't just give up and let the worst happen. Try something a bit different because, who knows, it might just work.

Sporting dreams can come true

Almost 20 years ago, prior to moving back to Norfolk, I was chief reporter at the daily newspaper for Burton-on-Trent in the Midlands. At the time their football team was sat a couple of leagues below the top four, pulling in gates of around 1,000 people. But they had an up and coming young manager in Nigel Clough and an ambitious chairman in Ben Robinson. Over the next decade they catapulted up the leagues, took the mighty Manchester United to a replay in the FA Cup and saw crowds grow to over 4,000. They ended up in the Championship, playing Norwich City, something my wife (a Burton and Norwich fan) and I never dreamt would happen. For the town it's been more than just a football club doing well, it's handed it a bigger profile and provided lots of great moments and memories to its people. There are so many similarities between where Burton were then and King's Lynn Town stand now and the Midlanders are proof that sporting dreams can come true. If the Linnets have the ambition there's no reason why they can't continue to rise up the divisions. What a great thing it would be for Norfolk to have two teams in the football league.

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