Out & About

Unexpected item

It’s fair to say Christmas is going to look a bit different this year says Melanie Cook of VisitNorwich

How many of you noticed Christmas messages slipping into your email inboxes and displays in stores in September? I for one certainly did. And it seemed earlier than usual. But then really, what is usual this year?

Planning has been a real thing we have had to do as we’ve come out of lockdown. Gone are the days (albeit temporarily we hope) of a spontaneous trip to an attraction or restaurant. Domestic holidays and short breaks are being booked as we speak for 2021. Covid-19 has come along, and we’ve had to think differently. 

Now more than ever we are in a situation where we really, really need to support our high streets and local businesses. And I for one believe this Christmas is our opportunity to discover the retailers and stores that are literally on our doorstep. Now is the time to shop locally, not just in bricks and mortar but also locally online. 

I absolutely love getting into stores. I’ve never been a huge online shopper. I like to see the quality of what’s on offer, what products are made of – I actually really like browsing, not shopping for something in particular. In my book whenever I’ve been out looking for something, knowing what I want – I can never find it. Yet when I’m browsing, I see gifts for everyone in the family, it’s like my mind is positively open to all the possibilities.

The Norwich Lanes, The Cathedral Quarter, Magdalen Street and The Royal Arcade are areas in Norwich packed full of independent shops, from second-hand bookstores, antiques and modern art to hand-made jewellery, ceramics and Norfolk made crafts. There are delis, collectables, gin, whisky and beer made in Norfolk, plants, lifestyle and boutiques. Norwich market is also a great place to do some Christmas shopping. Take my word for it, have a mooch around.

Community is also at the heart of shopping locally. Shop keepers and staff play an important role. I’m a talker, I love to have a chat when I’m at the till or ask questions whilst I’m wandering around. People working in shops are so easily ignored but building a rapport whilst shopping can take your conversation in all manner of directions and it’s what we like doing – conversing – we are social animals. One of the things we have missed about lockdown is each other. A connection in person is a good thing. A powerful thing. A conversation can change our mood – make it lighter, it gives us opportunity to respond to body language and enjoy interaction. Something that is missing online.

But we mustn’t dismiss online – it’s about balance and circumstance. If you’re not ready to get out or cannot for any reason, you can still shop locally online. Most independent retailers will have a website or at the very least a Facebook page for more information on stock and how to buy. And most will have a telephone number you can call on if you have questions.

CJ’s Fruit and Veg on Norwich Market came into their own as lockdown came into effect. They were one of the last stalls on the market to shut up shop. But not before launching a new delivery service and online store. And I’m delighted to say they’ve expanded their product range to include other local producers such as Crush (rapeseed oil), Dann’s luxury local ice-cream and Brick pizza. Collaboration has been another effect of Covid-19 on the retail landscape – shops who have introduced new lines and diversified their businesses have seen benefits. 

So where might we be shopping this Christmas? CJ’s Fruit & Veg (cjsfruitveg.com) and The Goat Shed (fieldingcottage.co.uk) at Fielding Cottage are great choices for treating someone to a food hamper or parcel. Jarrolds (jarrold.co.uk/departments/the-deli/gift-hampers) make fantastic local produce Christmas hampers, plus they have their own range of products too. The English Whisky Company sell all their whiskys online as do Bullard’s Gin. And if you are into beer (local or otherwise) take a look at Woodforde’s Brewery (woodfordes.com) and Sir Toby’s Beers on Norwich Market (sirtobysbeers.co.uk). Sir Toby’s also offers a Norfolk Beer Box – 8 selected bottles of beer delivered every 1, 2 or 3 months – depending on how generous you’re feeling. 

Or how about supporting our fabulous hospitality sector? Pick up the bill for a meal out or buy vouchers to use in the future. You couldn’t find a more welcoming team than at Namaste Village (namasteindiannorwich.com) plus they too now have their own online Namaste Bazaar – a place to buy essential Indian groceries along with savoury snacks, sweets, spices and vegetables. This is for home delivery or collection. 

The Waffle House is another favourite in Norwich or for something a bit more upmarket how about The Last, Benedicts or Roger Hickman’s? Or do you know someone who loves an indulgent afternoon tea? The Assembly House, The Maids Head, The Ivy Norwich Brasserie, The Norfolk Mead, Barnham Broom and Park Farm all serve up their own delicious versions. Or how about a classic cream tea at the atmospheric Britons Arms in Elm Hill.  

Local commissions are a great way to give more personalised and thoughtful presents. Sonkai jewellers (sonkai.co.uk) in The Royal Arcade can design whatever you have in mind. They also make new jewellery pieces out of old – this is a fantastic way to update something very special. Or how about getting a sentimental photograph specially framed? Fairhurst Gallery on Bedford Street in Norwich (fairhurstgallery.co.uk) make frames. They also restore, guild, conserve, and clean paintings. 

There are loads of local artists and writers in Norfolk too so having a trawl of Instagram or Google will throw up many names who may be able to paint a picture of your pooch, sketch your house, throw a vase or even write an account of a happy personal memory to gift someone. Artist Owen Mathers is a great place to start.

And for those who are never happier than when shopping in a trusted national department store or shopping mall – continue to do so. In person and online. These stores and malls are just as valuable to our local economy, not only because they employ many people but because they offer a huge range of big and small items all under one roof.

This Christmas choose to discover more from our high streets, market towns, local businesses and the people behind them. We need to show our support now, more than ever.

For more information, local interviews, stories, itineraries and ideas for where to shop, stay, eat and visit in Norwich and beyond go to visitnorwich.co.uk

Unexpected item
Unexpected item
Unexpected item
Unexpected item

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