Heavens above! Lockdowns fuel boom for unique Norfolk shop
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Things are looking up for Norfolk's only shop dedicated to astronomical telescopes.
Ian Knight, of Altair Astro in Aylsham's Red Lion Street, said more people than ever before were getting into stargazing as a hobby, spurred on by the coronavirus lockdowns and the trend towards exploring the delights our own backyards.
Mr Knight, 56, said: "We've grown dramatically in the past 18 months. A lot of people wanted to take up a new hobby during the lockdown, when they tended to have more time and disposable income on their hands.
"Norfolk is also a great spot to be for astronomy. There are several Dark Sky sites, including Kelling Health, and because it's quite flat here we've got these big skies and you can see things close to the horizon."
The Aylsham shop is far more than a retailer.
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Mr Knight and partner Nick Witte-Vermeulen also design and manufacture telescopes and other astronomical equipment under the brand Altair, some of which are constructed in Norfolk and others made by contractors in China and then imported.
He said: "We see other telescopes and try and adapt our telescopes to something we can use.
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"We try and put together something for the customer based on what we know they want to achieve."
Mr Knight said they had even made inroads into the American market. He said: "The Altair brand is a lot more commonly known there than it was three or four years ago, which is great because it's a difficult market to get into."
He said the trend has been towards telescopes that have cameras attached, in what is known as astro-imaging..
"When you put a CMOS camera onto the telescope you can see the colour, you can see the detail. So most people now can get away with quite a small telescope attached to a sensitive camera and they're able to see much more than they ever could before," he said.
Trade has been so brisk they have been able to expand their team to include Mr Knight's wife Samantha, and son, Joshua, 20, and they are all supported by a team of volunteers.