Cafe reveals exciting revamp as town gets ready to reopen
- Credit: Stuart Anderson
The next phase of the lockdown easing is a massive stride back to normality, with pubs, restaurants and cafes all able to welcome visitors inside again from May 17. Reporter STUART ANDERSON spoke to people in North Walsham about the struggles of the third lockdown, and their plans for 2021.
"It’s going to be fun and everyone needs a bit of that." Rebecca Lysaght is excitedly moving around furniture inside The Shambles cafe and restaurant in Market Street.
Its staff members are getting ready to finally welcome customers inside again after five months closure, with just a couple of limited takeaway offerings for Mother's Day and Easter.
Mrs Lysaght and husband David bought the building - North Walsham's oldest - in 2014. After fitting out the ground floor and the front room upstairs it opened as a cafe in November 2018.
Mrs Lysaght said: "We had been open for 18 months prior to the first lockdown and were just beginning to make money, which is amazing for a new restaurant because it normally takes three years. So at that critical stage [the lockdowns] was an unmitigated disaster."
But thanks to the furlough scheme and a grant from the New Anglia LEP to make the business more 'Covid-resilient', the cafe's team has stayed more-or-less intact. Mrs Lysaght said they had just finalised their post-lockdown preparations, and added Moroccan tajines and Spanish paella to their Mediterranean-themed menu.
Mrs Lysaght said: "It's going to be fantastic to reopen and finally see people again, because this lockdown has been particularly bleak."
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And the Lysaghts have been used the lockdowns to transform the unrenovated upstairs hall into a functional, multi-use space.
The hall, a weavers' workshop dating back 600 years - was once filled with looms and crafters processing Worsted wool into yarn - a medieval industry which saw North Walsham prosper.
Mrs Lysaght said the works were almost complete, and the hall should be ready for use within a month. But the building's age has presented some unique challenges. A glassier has had to warp glass panes in several different directions to fit the warp of the original oak window frames, called mullions.
She said: "This was all derelict a year ago. People didn't have glass panes 600 years ago but the weavers had to have a lot of light so these places have got loads of windows."
As well as being used as a regular part of the cafe, the hall will become a space for events, hosting everything from life drawing classes, to concerts and even weddings.
There is a similar sense of excitement over at Christopher's Cafe and Bakery in Church Street.
Natasha Williams, who runs the business with husband, Chris, said that while their bread and cake counter had stayed open for takeaways, having people sitting inside again would make the world of difference.
"It'll be so nice - we'll be seeing some people again after more than a year," she said. [On Thursday] a 93-year-old gentleman was here who we hadn't seen since February last year, he thought he could come in one week early, bless him."
Mrs Williams said surviving the lockdown had been difficult. "The last few months have been the hardest - It's been hard for anyone in business to keep their heads above water, which we've just about managed," she said.
"We're looking forward to getting some money into the tills, and start moving back to normal - or the new normal."
Christopher's will reopen to indoor trade on Monday, while The Shambles is holding off reopening until North Walsham's market day Thursday (May 20).
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We asked people on the streets of North Walsham to tell us what they are looking forward to doing following the lockdown easing of May 17.
Beryl Clarke, 88
"I'm looking forward to having a family meal out again with my granddaughters, I'm particularly looking forward to going to the cafe at North Walsham Garden Centre for their egg and chips.
"It'd be really nice to have that again. They do a lovely egg and chips, with a nice big yolk you can dip your chips in, and it's only £5.
"It'll be nice to finally get out again, I mean we've been stuck inside long enough."
Hannah Clarke, 30
"I'm going to be going out to restaurants again. I've had a table booked for two months at the King's Arms in Fleggburgh, so it will be good to finally go there."
Brian Avery, 74
"I haven't really got much planned, but I am looking forward to having visitors round again, we've got some Kent friends coming down, so looking forward to that."
Ricki Johnson, 72
"I'm looking forward to finally going out to celebrate my anniversary. It's in July, but we've already missed it for the last couple of years so we need to make up for that."
Gwen York, 73
"It'll be nice to visit people in the house again. I'm planning to visit my sister and the in-laws.
"It'll be good to get inside in the warm because it's been too cold for older people to meet outside really."