Suffolk market towns weathering the pandemic storm
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
While the challenges faced by cities and large towns like Ipswich have been the focus of much debate in the wake of the Covid pandemic, smaller market towns seem to be recovering better after a turbulent two years.
There appears to be growing evidence that more local people are "falling back in love" with their home towns - which are also attracting shoppers from a wider area as well.
Woodbridge is a town with an award-winning selection of independent shops and while the early months of the year are traditionally difficult for town centres, it appears to be heading into 2022 with confidence.
Former mayor Clare Perkins helps to run Choose Woodbridge which helps to promote the town, and said she had been encouraged by the number of shoppers she had seen during a visit to deliver leaflets to members earlier this week.
She said: "We were out on Wednesday. It was a shame to see some closed shops, but generally the place was fairly busy given that this is a quiet time of the year.
"We've even seen some new places open - and you can't get into the new bakery and cafe (Two Magpies) because of the people going there.
"I think there's a real sense of optimism - and the independent stores here really are offering people something different."
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There was a similar story in Stowmarket where town mayor Keith Scarff said a combination of events, markets, and cultural facilities helped to maintain its vibrancy.
He said: "We had a Christmas Fair in December after Bury cancelled its event and I think that brought in a lot more people and things have continued from there.
"I think we now only have three very small vacant shops in the whole town - and despite the time of year people do feel things are going in the right direction."
The Regal Cinema, John Peel Centre and Museum of East Anglian Life all helped create a strong cultural centre which helped encourage people into the town.
Mr Scarff said: "As a triple-hatter (he sits on the district and county councils as well as Stowmarket Town Council) I do think it helps that at a local level people all seem happy to work together, whatever their political parties - and most do have a party allegiance.