The heart of living local

How global pandemics and lockdowns have made me live more local…

By Rachel Gilbert

Shopping local and supporting small businesses is at the heart of living in East Anglia. We live in close knit communities and many of our neighbours produce the food on our tables. It is, however, often these small businesses that get hit the hardest during global pandemics, fuel crises and other curve balls.

During the first lockdown, I decided to set myself a challenge to alter my spending habits, and it ended up bringing me a whole lot more than fresh produce and locally-sourced goods. I made friends and altered my spending habits long term.

I have always been a champion for shopping locally. You can taste the difference in food when it hasn’t travelled the ocean, and it is always lovely to catch up with the lovely shop keepers.

To fulfil my lockdown challenge, my deal with myself was to never step foot in the nearest big-name supermarket. I restricted myself to shops with a local last name above the door — where I knew the name of the face behind the counter.

My main stops on my charming — albeit busy in the summer — high street were the deli, the greengrocer’s and two small convenience stores. I learned so much from this project, and have tried to carry as many of my new habits with me beyond those first months spent inside.

It is cheaper to shop on the high street…

Ok, maybe the savings were partly due to the fact that I couldn’t really go to a pub and had no reason to buy a lot of items. The greengrocers in my town is extremely reasonable, especially when shopping in season for British-grown goods. Smaller shops like these often run deals when fruits and vegetables are going out of date — I love creating a meal exclusively with “sad section” finds. Prior to the pandemic, the shop was cash-only, and I continued this into the pandemic, however, I decided to “quarantine” any and all change into a little savings pot which came in very handy when the
pubs reopened!

Additionally, shopkeepers enjoy seeing regular faces and will reward loyalty. You are supporting them and sometimes you may be rewarded with a few extra wonky carrots, or a “rounding-off” of your total.

You are supporting real people in your community.

Getting to know the producers in the area you live and shop in is wonderful — not only as a consumer, but as a member of the community. I started my challenge timidly stepping into the local deli to see what was on offer. Now I can walk in and boldly ask for my friends, and ask for advice on how to revive my sourdough starter. Martin Billing owns five shops on the Norfolk coast said getting to know owners and staff in local shops will elevate your experience. “You’ll get added value from knowing exactly who you are supporting,” Martin said.

Knowing who you are supporting each time you spend is rewarding. Each time you step into a shop, wou will be greeted by a familiar face that knows their customers and is willing to help you have the best shopping experience possible.

By the end of April 2020, internet search for
banana bread had soared by


and pictures of successful bakes were
posted on
Instagram more than

45,000 times.

One major positive from the past year is the support people have showed for local and independent businesses, with almost

64% of Brits

choosing to shop closer to home.
Barclaycard Payments data shows
shoppers spent an extra 63.3%
in February at food and drink specialist stores, such as butchers, bakeries and greengrocers, compared with the same month last year.
Shopping locally is set
to be a lockdown legacy, with

9 in 10 Brits

who have been shopping locally throughout the pandemic saying they will keep doing this to support smaller and independent businesses even after all restrictions end.

Data from: Barclaycard – Lockdown legacies

It is more sustainable than the supermarket.

I have an endless collection of cardboard boxes from the greengrocers and the local market — much more environmentally-friendly than a plastic bag. Each time I stepped on to the high street, I knew I was doing my part to reduce my carbon footprint. The food miles are typically lower, and I wasn’t getting into my car each time I needed a box of eggs. Most shops will accept the boxes back as well, so they can be recycled for another customer.

Furthermore, many of the bulk-buy items are packed in-house and don’t necessarily need a container. Some shops will fill a container brought in by customers, it is always worth checking beforehand.

The shopping experience is tailored to you.

In all walks of life, we love seeing a familiar, friendly face. Naomi Herbert, owner of Salthouse Stores, said local shops provide a great community hub for people to relax and catch up in. Small-town stores are often frequented by a small group of people regularly, and can be a great spot to meet like-minded people in your area.

Local shops will always do their best to help out regular customers. A convenience shop near me ordered a certain type of milk and a particular brand of hand cream so I could continue my streak of avoiding the supermarket. “By and large, a local retailer will bend over backwards to source a product for a customer,” Naomi said. Come Christmas, I was lucky enough to walk into the deli and hand a list of ingredients to my friend behind the counter who ordered everything for me for the perfect fruit cake. Word of mouth is vital for local shops, and I wouldn’t hesitate to send anyone to my favourite shops.


Martin Billing


Martin and Sarah Billing own five shops on the north Norfolk Coast: Bringing the outside in, Ocotillo, Ffarr, Nomad and the Bowerbird and a coffee shop.
The five stores offer a range of homeware, clothing items and other treasures, each with a slightly different theme. The Billings are proud supporters of local and recycled products. Martin shared some thoughts on keeping things close to home…

Why do you think it’s important to shop local?

Shopping locally not only keeps your hard-earned pounds circulating in the community, but also ensures longevity, creativity and independence in our towns and villages.

As a consumer, how did the pandemic change your spending habits?

I’ve always been a big supporter of local but the pandemic has elevated that. It’s made me go out of my way to make considered purchases with local independents.

As a local business owner, how did the pandemic change the spending habits of your customer base?

We’ve certainly seen more people coming out to shop independent. Customers have really appreciated the opportunity to touch and experience the product before they buy again.

Have you got any tips for someone who wants to keep their spending local?

Get to know the owners and staff in your local, independent shops. Not only does it make your shopping experience more pleasant, but you’ll get added value from knowing exactly who you are supporting.

What is your favourite producer or shop in Norfolk/Suffolk?

I’ve always been a big fan of Working Title Clothing in Norwich for their menswear but they  have come out of the pandemic with a stronger offering than ever.

Namoi Herbert

Naomi Herbert

Naomi Herbert who owns the Salthouse Store in the picturesque Salthouse offers much more than just being a village store, including a coffee shop and holiday lets, with amazing views across the stunning marshes to the sea. Here she shares her thoughts on living local…

Why do you think it’s important to shop local?

Even prior to the pandemic, we believed that shopping locally had numerous benefits. Shopping as near to home as possible not only saves time, but also saves on the cost of travel and inevitably has less of an impact on the carbon footprint.

As an independent retailer we take great pleasure in carefully sourcing as many of our products and produce from as many local businesses as possible. This not only ensures quality, but again, reduces the carbon footprint and boosts both the local economy as well as the local workforce.

As a local business owner, how did the pandemic change the spending habits of your customer base?

When the pandemic began we had only had the business for 8 months. Even so, in this short space of time the shop evolved quite organically, but also very rapidly!

All of a sudden we had new customers coming; not only from Salthouse, but from surrounding villages too… people who were not comfortable in visiting the supermarkets or were unable to get an online delivery. Thus began the game of Tetris! Trying to fit as many shelves as possible into a small shop!

Listening to customer’s needs was paramount. We aimed to stock whatever was asked of us, from custard powder to mung beans, kombucha to Irn Bru! With the lockdowns easing and visitors returning, the result is a pretty eclectic mixture of products that reflect the shopping needs of our community and its visitors.

Have you got any tips for someone who wants to keep their spending local?

It is impossible to compete with big corporate companies and supermarkets, but what shopping locally does ensure is very often, local and generally, great quality produce. It also provides a local hub for the local community to catch up and chat. Should you not see an item you would like to purchase then just ask! By and large, a local retailer will bend over backwards to source a product for a customer.

What is your favourite producer or shop in Norfolk/Suffolk?

We have some amazing suppliers that have not once failed to keep us stocked up, both during the pandemic, but also through the extremely busy “staycation” summer! During lockdown one, when the whole country was churning out banana breads, the shelves were bare of flour. Letheringsett Water Mill ensured our shelves were stocked with their amazing flour throughout, and Norfolk Coffee Company has never failed to keep both us and our customers extremely happy! With each of the local deliveries we receive, a chat and a catch up on the doorstep, or even over the phone when making orders, just goes to further build our little North Norfolk business community.

One year on, what has changed?

I have to admit, I have slipped back into some old habits. Sometimes the supermarket is just easier, or more convenient. With a small amount of planning, however, I can keep my visits to a minimum. I try to plan a variety of meals around what is available in the veg shop. My root veg will keep for longer so will be used later in the week, other bits like tomatoes or peppers will be cooked up early in the week. Leftovers will be taken to work the next day, making for a cheap, healthy lifestyle.

Now when I am looking to update my wardrobe, I may turn to Google for some inspiration, but nothing beats the option of being able to try on a product with help from a friendly-face. I am always more excited to unwrap a purchase from someone I know.

There is no real right or wrong when it comes to our spending habits, but each time you step into a locally-owned shop, know that you are making friends, reducing your carbon footprint and supporting your community.