Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Resolution 3: Support the local economy - local shops and businesses

I went for a walk with my family along Riverside yesterday afternoon. Not all that long ago the scene above would have been full of bustle and noise. Barges unloading goods onto the wharves; others loading up with Norfolk-produced goods for export. At its peak, Norwich products were traded in the bazaars of Istanbul and were valuable enough to attract pirates in the Bosphorus, according to contemporary accounts. We even exported top-quality textiles to ….er, China.

Even after the decline of the wool trade that made Norwich’s fortune, we made plenty of things in Norwich, with factories and workshops scattered throughout the city. The decline in manufacture in our city has been much more recent than you might think.

Then there were all the market gardens supplying the city market. A friend was telling me that 75% of the market was fruit-and-veg stalls until less than thirty years ago; now there are only four of them left. Across the city the little independent shops are struggling, while the supermarkets and chain stores are doing a roaring trade.

The other day, several of us were looking at the city model, which is currently stored at my house while waiting for a more fitting location; it’s less than ten years out of date. Alex pointed out a piano factory, another making handbags; the factory on the Chapelfield site – all gone recently. Boulton and Paul’s timber firm on Riverside, convenient for the timber barges; Read’s flour mill nearby; King Street sites; there are lots more in recent memory.

The same story is true across most of the country, of course. What’s different about Norwich is that it was once fabulously wealthy because of its manufacturing base here in the city; and the inexorable decline of its light industry has been much later than elsewhere in our region.

And today, we don’t sell textiles to China. We buy textiles from China. We fall for the convenience of supermarket shopping; we pursue cheap goods manufactured under goodness knows what conditions…

But there is a new economy emerging. To my surprise, I’ve been discovering recently that small-scale operations are springing up in the city again. There are lots of micro-breweries, doing very well. There’s the artisan bakers Dozen in Gloucester Street. Little independent workshops and small businesses are everywhere. And we must support them, instead of letting our money go out of the community.

Even better, we should have the courage to come up with innovative ways of doing business. There’s a big empty shop, conveniently close to the railway station and the riverside, that could be transformed into something very exciting, much better than its last incarnation as Woolies. Maybe this is the place for a new flour mill? And what about micro-financing, to help small businesses keep going and employ local people? What about converting all those empty luxury flats back into warehouses?

We could do a lot to transform Norwich’s economy. And the way to do it is to shop local and support the local economy.


Entrance to Norwich harbour, heavily guarded by flint towers

The city model, a full-scale model of the city centre

Luxury apartments on Riverside


  1. There's lots of support for getting temporary projects into empty shops, giving people a chance to explore options, test ideas and create new businesses. Check out for a useful guide

  2. Dan - many thanks for this info. I'll follow it up - one or two ideas are bubbling under.
    Best wishes