A look back at 2020 in Great Yarmouth - a year like no other

Cromer fireworks

People gathered on the beach at Cromer on January 1, 2020 - a milestone year that will go down in history. - Credit: Liz Coates

Welcome to 2020! A new year is here and there seemed to be plenty to look forward to, and, even better, it was a leap year - so one day longer.

January

Initially there was good news and bad news and much of the focus was on the under-pressure retail sector and how it could survive.

We were excited to see the plans for Great Yarmouth's new £3.5m Market Place - but were worried about what was happening to the rest of the town centre.

New vision for Great Yarmouth Market

An image of the new covered market coming to Great Yarmouth town centre was released in January 2020. - Credit: GYBC

We already knew Debenhams was closing and when the store's last day came on January 15 people said it was a shame.


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But there was worse to come with Beales collapsing into administration just five days later and 'store closing' signs going up in Palmers shop windows just a few days after that.

However there was activity at the former M&S store in King Street as Sports Direct looked to be getting stuck into its takeover.

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On the TV we enjoyed Chris and Debbie King from Bradwell putting Great Yarmouth in the spotlight on Couple's Come Dine With Me.

Chris and Debbie King

Chris and Debbie King from Bradwell entertained us on Couples Come Dine With Me in January 2020. - Credit: Debbie King

Meanwhile it emerged that controversial headteacher Barry Smith was no longer in charge at Great Yarmouth's Charter Academy.

February

The month started cheerily enough, especially for fans of Rag 'n' Bone Man after the singer popped up to deliver a surprise performance at Gorleston's Ocean Room, delighting the crowd.

Uncertainty about Palmers continued with everyone keeping everything crossed that a buyer could be found.

While coronavirus had taken hold in the national headlines it makes its first appearance in this newspaper amid news that a Chinese takeaway in Acle had closed as a precaution as staff returned from Malaysia and Hong Kong and went into voluntary quarantine.

Full River Takeaway

The Full River takeaway in Acle delayed its reopening after Christmas as a precaution due to coronavirus, two staff having travelled overseas to celebrate Chinese New Year. - Credit: Archant

At the time it was reported some 45,000 were infected worldwide and over 1,000 had died.

Meanwhile Great Yarmouth's Pleasure Beach was pulling out all the stops to bring a new ride over from Italy for Easter, the Lightning 360 which was to replace the popular Mulan ride.

Storm Ciara swept across the country leaving a trail of damage and a new attraction appeared on the seafront that looked like part of the aftermath - an upside down house, providing visitors with a zero gravity illusion experience - but then everything was about to get upended.

March

Palace Bingo in Great Yarmouth revealed it was taking the coronavirus threat seriously and temperature testing everyone who came  through the doors, but mostly  the rest of us we were carrying on as normal.

Patrick Duffy Palace Bingo

Patrick Duffy testing the temperature of Palace Bingo customer in March. - Credit: Archant

Palmers Department Store did finally shut on March 15, ending more that 180 years in the town.

Palmers closing

Palmers department store closed in March 2020 after more than 180 years on the high street. - Credit: Archant

At around the same time we knew we had three positive cases in Norfolk, all at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.

The first deaths were confirmed in the county by March 20, and by March 31 there had been 18.

Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown on March 23, although people were being told not to gather before that and Haven Holiday Parks had already announced they were closing temporarily and asking holiday makers to leave.

The news was dominated by pictures of eerie, empty high streets devoid of activity, with people only allowed to leave their  homes for essential items or one hour of exercise.

We started clapping for carers at 8pm on March 26.

April

April sees us getting used to life under lockdown.

It's still early days with rainbows and teddy bears abounding in household windows. In what would become the norm there are a rash of cancellations and holding events online becomes the way forward.

Some anniversaries that would have been a big deal pass by without fanfare including the 200th birthday of Black Beauty author Anna Sewell. 

We were only allowed out to buy essentials and to exercise, and sunbathing was banned (as neither essential nor exercise) which is a shame as the month ended up being  the sunniest on record with a whopping three and a half hours a day more sunshine that normal.

Josh Johnson from Lingwood played the piano for 24 hours to raise money for Mind and a man in Gorleston is praised for social distancing as he lounges in a  hammock strung up on a roof.

Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson from Lingwood played the piano for 24 hours to raise money for Mind. - Credit: Josh Johnson

There was heartache as Chelsie Dack from Gorleston went missing and people were warned off from joining the search because of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson was out of action for three weeks after contracting coronavirus and the month ended with an actual earthquake (off the Norfolk coast) and the equally shattering news that B&Q had reopened some its stores - an event that required a police presence to manage cars and queueing.

May

Things went a bit mad in May. The month started with news of a man running nine miles in a mankini.

Matthew Trett was raising money for the NHS and ended his feat with a dip in the sea. Meanwhile a family in Gorleston coloured in their home brick by brick reflecting the craze for all things rainbow and a "skeleton" was found in the Waterways lily pond which had gone a mysteriously vibrant green prompting a police manhunt and widespread condemnation.

Green Waterways

May was the month the Waterways turned green. - Credit: Denise Bradley

We celebrated VE day in fine weather in our homes and gardens and enjoyed a doorstep toast lead by pageantmaster Bruno Peek, the main celebrations being largely abandoned for the pandemic the bank holiday having been moved especially to May 8.

VE Day Scratby

A house in Scratby decorated to celebrate VE Day in May 2020. - Credit: Richard Haynes

We continued clapping for carers but after nine weeks on May 28 we put our palms together for the last time as restrictions looked to be easing and hospitals seemed to be over the worst.

Residents of Burgh House in Great Yarmouth enjoyed a drive-through disco and Norfolk knitting queen Margaret Seaman unveiled her Knittingale Hospital creation.

Burgh House

Residents of Burgh House enjoyed a drive-through disco so they could see their families. - Credit: Archant

During this month the cap on exercise was scrapped and we were encouraged to go back to work but not to use public transport.

We lost lifestock legend Peter Edrich, the man who captained Concorde Peter Horton, and Great Yarmouth's seafront Marina Centre was reduced to rubble.

June

It is back to school for some primary school children who are being taught in "bubbles" and asked to social distance. In Ormesby some pupils hailed it "the best day ever" as the novelty of being away from the classroom appeared to have worn off.

As we all flocked back to the beaches there was no water fun for the Corbett family after their lockdown hot tub was stolen.

Racing resumed at Great Yarmouth Racecourse, albeit behind closed doors, a mystery man cleaned 700 windows for free in Great Yarmouth, and pilot Tony Walsh took to the skies to entertain people with loop-the-loops and other daring feats.

Great Yarmouth Racecourse

Horse racing resumed but without any public crowds in June. - Credit: PA

Great Yarmouth's Market reopened on June 3, after more than two months, paving the way for the rest of the shops to open their doors on June 15 when face coverings became mandatory on public transport.

All the talk was about being Covid-ready for July 4 when leisure and entertainment were due to reopen, Gorleston's Palace Cinema looking to put mannequins in empty seats to aid social distancing.

By the end of the month we were back on the Broads in what seemed a return to almost normal aside from queues and social distancing.

Brian Grint sitting at the location of the Acle stocks in 2009. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Brian Grint sitting at the location of the Acle stocks in 2009. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Archant © 2009

During the month tributes were paid to 'Mr Acle' Brian Grint, former Caister Infant School head Patricia Lewis, and Eileen Read, a former teacher and mother of Olympian Kathy Read who all sadly died.

July 

It seems a lifetime ago now when, on July 4, pubs, bars and other hospitality venues reopened after being closed for 15 weeks on what some had optimistically nicknamed ‘Super Saturday’. 

Meanwhile, the sight of empty cruise ships, anchored off the coast while international travel was suspended, reminded beachgoers of the pandemic’s impact.  

A welcome coronavirus-free distraction was a crockery-bombing phenomenon which saw up to 40 colourful mugs and a striped china pot mysteriously placed on a roundabout near the James Paget hospital (which, in an unrelated development, lifted its visitor ban on July 28).  

Within a couple of weeks, Highways England had removed the ad hoc display, claiming it was dangerous – it wouldn’t be long, though, before the roundabout was back in the news.  

The end of the month brought tragedy when a couple, Alex Mills and Niraj Patel, were found dead in a flat in Gorleston.

We also lost Derek George, secretary of Caister Lifeboat. 

Derek George, secretary of Caister Lifeboat, who died on July 21, has been hailed as a true gentlema

Derek George, secretary of Caister Lifeboat, who died on July 21, has been hailed as a true gentleman who always had time for everyone. Picture: Caister Lifeboat. - Credit: Archant

August 

It was a summer of staycations and rammed restaurants as tourists flocked to the coast and restrictions continued to be loosened during the month we learned the phrase ‘Eat Out to Help Out’. 

In what was becoming a seasonal tradition, the Haven Bridge was causing problems again, when an electrical fault prevented it from opening and boaters who had been holidaying off the coast complained they couldn’t return home.

Haven Bridge, Great Yarmouth, will be closed from 8pm on November 23 for tests Photo: Archant

Haven Bridge was causing problems once more. - Credit: Archant

A twist in the crockery-bombing saga saw a new mug bearing the name 'Mr Big' appear on the 'Mad Hatter's Roundabout', the nickname given by locals to the junction.

Not far away, on the town's High Street, traders breathed a sigh of relief when parking was allowed again after barriers placed on the road to allow room for social distancing were removed. 

But there were omens of the coming months – cases of Covid-19 were rising in Great Yarmouth after an outbreak at Banham Poultry. 


September 

It was back to school but not back to normal. Parents queued for hours to get that last-minute piece of uniform while bus operators urged people to travel outside peak times to allow children get to lessons. 

Potters Resort confirmed job losses because of Covid, plans were approved for a McDonalds restaurant and drive-thru at Asda on Acle New Road, and Gorleston beach, often referred to as the region’s best kept secret, was named by Trip Advisor as one of the best on earth. 

While oil and gas bosses applauded the long-awaited green light for plans to build the Third River Crossing, there was anger and frustration in Yarmouth when the government announced it was delaying dualling the Acle Straight for at least ten years.  

At the end of the month, 36 people working at the Bernard Matthews factory in Holton, the majority of them living in Yarmouth and Lowestoft, tested positive for coronavirus.  


October 

The pandemic dominated news on the coast. A surge in cases prompted a plea to public to take extra care to stop the spread of the disease and Covid marshalls patrolled the streets.

The James Paget hospital brought back visitor restrictions and on October 7 reported its first Covid-related death since the end of June. 

We learned that Margaret Seaman, the Caister woman who knitted a replica of the Nightingale hospitals, won the praise of Boris Johnson. 

The debate over free school meals made its way to Yarmouth on October 27 when plates bearing messages of disappointment appeared on the steps of Brandon Lewis’ constituency office after the Conservative MP had defended his decision not to vote for the extension of the scheme during the half-term holidays.

The Albion pub in Great Yarmouth after a car ploughed into it. Picture: LAUREN DE BOISE

The Albion pub in Great Yarmouth after a car ploughed into it. Picture: LAUREN DE BOISE - Credit: LAUREN DE BOISE

At around the same time, a man was taken to hospital after the car he was driving ploughed into the side of the Albion pub on Nelson Road.   

Halloween saw the Prime Minister announce the second lockdown would begin on November 5. 


November 

The news brought throngs of shoppers to Yarmouth’s town centre as they raced to beat the imminent restrictions, hunting down essential items, gifts, and festive greetings cards. 

Christmas came early to a village in the Broads when a woman urged residents to ‘Make Martham Sparkle’.

An illuminated house at Christmas

One of the 'lighthouses' in Martham that is helping to make the village sparkle. - Credit: Tracy Woodward

There was shock and disappointment when two post offices closed, one in Burgh Castle and the other on St Peter’s Road in Great Yarmouth. 

Seventy-two people were arrested after a 30m fishing boat crammed with 69 migrants from Albania was stopped off the coast. 

A coroner found that Alex Mills and Niraj Patel, the couple found dead in a flat in Gorleston in July, had taken their own lives. 

Meanwhile, tributes poured in for a Yarmouth legend when Andrew Mavroudis, nightclub owner, died. He was 49 years old. 

Andrew Mavroudis

Andrew Mavroudis, who passed away in November. - Credit: Submitted

December

The last month of a troubled year brought the end of the second lockdown, when, on December 2, Norfolk entered Tier 2 restrictions – a decision that didn’t seem to surprise many people in the town. 

We looked on sadly as demolition teams tore apart the popular Dunes Cafe in Winterton, bringing to an end the building’s long and costly battle with coastal erosion.

The Dunes Cafe in Winterton being demolished. Picture: Danielle Booden

The Dunes Cafe in Winterton being demolished - Credit: Danielle Booden

That same day, but without any of the traditional fanfare, the Christmas lights were switched on across Great Yarmouth. 

There were, of course, glimmers of hope when the first patients received coronavirus vaccinations at the James Paget hospital, and when we thought, finally, there might be an end on sight.  

But those images were soon eclipsed by news of the new variant of the virus. 

And after the five-day loosening of restrictions over Christmas was abandoned, we settled in for a much quieter festive season, suspended somewhere between hope and apprehension.





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