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‘I really miss the banter’ - Great Yarmouth’s businesses and traders reveal lockdown impact

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 April 2020 | UPDATED: 08:32 30 April 2020

Mick Mann (right) and Bob Hall at Great Yarmouth Market Place. Photo: Bill Darnell

Mick Mann (right) and Bob Hall at Great Yarmouth Market Place. Photo: Bill Darnell

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Great Yarmouth’s town centre businesses have never faced anything like a pandemic-induced government shut down before.

The Market Place in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Antony KellyThe Market Place in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Antony Kelly

We spoke to five in the seaside town to find out how they are coping in lockdown and whether they think their business will survive.

Mark Sturgess, owner of Mark’s Pantry down Row 34, closed his cafe the week before lockdown was officially imposed on March 23.

“When the Prime Minister announced that people should stop visiting cafes, restaurants and theatres, footfall just dried up,” he said.

“So we closed up and rushed straight out to B&Q to buy decorating materials.

Great Yarmouth's town centre. Picture: James BassGreat Yarmouth's town centre. Picture: James Bass

“In lockdown, we’ve embarked on a much needed re-do, and the cafe looks very fresh.

“But generally, we really miss people and seeing familiar faces. It’ll be such a relief when this is all over.”

Mr Sturgess said that a grant of £10,000 from the Government had been forthcoming, but that the cafe would still be relying on self-employed furlough pay coming through in June, as well as family savings, to survive.

Steve Morris, from Steve’s Pick ‘n’ Mix in Regent Road, said he had also received a grant after his business was ordered to close.

Mark's Pantry will look totally different on the outside once normal life resumes. Picture: Jacob MasseyMark's Pantry will look totally different on the outside once normal life resumes. Picture: Jacob Massey

“The money is very helpful, but it doesn’t stop the feeling of uncertainty”, he said.

“I’m just pottering around at home, going into my shop once or twice a week to collect my mail and keeping my fingers crossed we will survive this thing.

“I’ve been running this shop in different locations around Yarmouth for 20 years, so I hope we come out the other side.”

Stephen Cook from Branded Toys, also in Regent Road, said his business was surviving because of the help he’d received from the council and government.

Branded Toys, Regent Road. Photo: GoogleBranded Toys, Regent Road. Photo: Google

“The government grant has been a lifeline, and the council processed it very quickly”, he said.

“Although we missed Easter, and are likely to miss most of the summer, the lucky thing about selling TV and film memorabilia is that it doesn’t expire.

“Provided we can open again by July, and that people still venture out once restrictions are lifted, the business has a chance of surviving the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, for Mick Mann, who owns market stall Market Cobblers, waiting for the government to sort out his staff’s furlough pay has forced him to dip into his £10,000 grant to maintain worker’s wages.

Market Cobbler stall on Great Yarmouth's market place. Photo: GoogleMarket Cobbler stall on Great Yarmouth's market place. Photo: Google

He said: “We’ve been shut since March 21, and the money side of it has been frustrating. I can’t get my own self-employed furlough pay until June.

“But I’m more worried about what’ll happen when this is all over. What if nobody wants to come back into town even when distancing restrictions are lifted?”

Mr Mann said the thing affecting him the most was loneliness.

“I just really miss all the banter and the social side of it”, he said.

Great Yarmouth's town centre. Picture: James BassGreat Yarmouth's town centre. Picture: James Bass

“I’ve been working next to the same people and serving the same customers for twenty years so it’s weird not seeing their faces six days a week. But we can get through this.”

However, for Paul Proto, whose MRP Gifts and Flowers stall is part of the two-day market infrastructure, he cannot qualify for a government grant because he does not pay business rates.

He said: “Since we pay rent to the council, we thought they might be able to give us some relief.

“But so far, they haven’t reached a decision on this, so the only financial help we’ll be receiving is our self-employed furlough pay in June.

Mick Mann (right) and Bob Hall at Great Yarmouth Market Place. Photo: Bill DarnellMick Mann (right) and Bob Hall at Great Yarmouth Market Place. Photo: Bill Darnell

“They were supposed to be moving us all in September anyway in advance of the market place regeneration.

“I have no idea what’ll happen to that now, or if the town will come out of it all weaker or stronger.

“Though I know there’s no definite answer, all I can say is that hopefully my stalls will come through this, because I’ve got a garage full of stock that isn’t going anywhere.”


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