‘Livelihoods are at stake’ - how will a socially distanced Norwich Market work?
- Credit: Archant
The colourful stalls of Norwich Market have sat at the city’s centre for more than 900 years.
And though its size, make-up and offering has fluctuated in that time, it has remained a constant - and in the last few years has, its stallholders say, never been better.
Business has boomed, awards have been taken home and footfall has risen.
But concerns has surfaced over its future in a socially distanced world, with its narrow aisles in particular - many of which hover around two metres wide - proving problematic.
Mark Wright, owner of Taxi Vintage Clothing and chairman of Norwich Market Traders’ Association, said the body was working with Norwich City Council to hammer out a strategy.
“There are hundreds of livelihoods at stake,” he said. “It is a major issue. It might just come down to masks for customers and traders, if that makes it possible then that’s what we’ll have to do.
“But there isn’t a human alive who knows when this will end, so we need to plan for a worst case scenario.
“Business had never been better. You can guarantee rain or shine it’s busy down there, it has a life of its own now and fills me with pride.
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“It is a real cruel shame, but we know there are a lot of people who are much worse off than us.”
Some of Norfolk’s outdoor markets are beginning to head back to business, including in towns such as Swaffham, with stalls selling essential goods returning first.
Many have introduced sanitiser stations, one-way systems and marked queueing areas - but their size and lack of fixed stalls makes adjustments much easier.
Matthew Packer, cabinet member at Norwich City Council with responsibility for the market, described it as “one of the jewels in the city’s crown”, saying the eclectic mix of stalls offered something for everyone.
“The current coronavirus crisis has, of course, had an impact on the lives and, in many cases, the livelihoods of everyone and this includes traders and customers of Norwich Market,” he said. “We are actively working on plans for how the market could re-open.
“We will be taking into account government restrictions and official guidance, as well as the experiences and advice of other similar markets.
“It is important that any plans are worked through and discussed with traders before we make any announcements and would hope to be in a position to be able to talk about some of the detail in the next week or so.”
He said safety of Norwich residents - both stall holders and customers - was of paramount concern, so plans must be undertaken in a “safe and responsible way”.
For the time being, the majority of stallholders will remain closed - certain fresh produce and food stalls have remained open for deliveries.
Shaun Champion, of Deb’s hot food stall, said they had been closed since lockdown began, but had reopened for the first time on Saturday for takeaways.
“At first people were terrified and there was very little happening, so there wasn’t much point us opening,” he said.
He said they had been reasonably busy on Saturday, particularly with customers who enjoyed the conversation that comes with an outing, but that they had been asked on Saturday morning to close again ahead of discussions over how to reopen safely.
He said it was frustrating, and that he would welcome some long-term answers.
“Some of these aisles are not two metres wide,” he said, “so once you start getting queues the maths just don’t add up.”
A spokesman for Norwich City Council added they were aware many stallholders were keen to resume trading, a desire they shared.
“The very nature of the market means that the narrow rows present a real challenge in terms of introducing appropriate social distancing measures,” they said. “So we will be working closely with all stallholders to ensure that traders and customers are safe when businesses begin to reopen.”