One of the Norwich’s biggest assets is its concentration of locally-owned, often-niche, small businesses, many of them situated in the historic narrow streets just beyond the main shopping centre, which has for some years marketed itself as The Norwich Lanes.

Just as York has ‘The Shambles’ and Brighton has its own ‘the Lanes’, this is part of the city which plays a vital cog in helping smaller, independent businesses thrive, many of them in the hospitality sector, which has faced more than its fair share of pressures in recent years.

According to The Norwich Lanes website, the area is home to more than 300 retailers, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars, not to mention an independent cinema, a community theatre, two museums and several galleries.

In short, just the kind of attraction which can play a crucial role in the prosperity of our city, supporting jobs and encouraging visitors, who will then spend their leisure pounds with businesses which are local, and hence which will re-spend that money in the city too.

So it is baffling that the organisation charged with supporting and marketing The Norwich Lanes has decided to call off the biggest event of the year, which brings many, many people (25,000 last year) out to discover all of these fantastic shops and foodie outlets.  And all because of a football match.

The Norwich Lanes Association is reported to have abandoned the idea of holding the annual Norwich Lanes Summer Fayre in July, because later on the same day – not even at the same time as the fayre would have been happening – the Euro 2024 final is taking place in Berlin.

Now if, and it’s a very big if, by some miracle England is competing in that match, it’s true that many people will want to be in front of a screen watching it.  In 2021 when England lost on penalties to Italy in the final, 31 million people tuned in, just under half the population (which, of course, means that just over half the population were not interested in it).

However, the match doesn’t kick off until 8pm, and the Norwich Lanes Summer Fayre has always been a day-time affair.  So why can they not both take place?

And in any case, why should those hard-pressed businesses and the thousands of us who look forward to the event every year lose out, just because some people might want to watch some sport.

I know that diehard football fans like to trot out that tired old Bill Shankly quote about football being more important than life and death, but you know what: it’s just not.  It’s a game.  Fair enough, if you are so mesmerised by football that you want to put every other aspect of your life on hold to watch it, that is your decision.  But don’t impose that choice on the rest of us.

Many Lanes business-owners, especially those in the food and hospitality sector, have expressed their dismay that the Fayre has been abandoned to the great god of football.  One restaurant owner was quoted in this newspaper saying, “It’s the best day of the year for us and easily our busiest day.  All the businesses here look forward to it.  We’re all devastated it’s not happening.”

Another said, “Last year we made a lot of new customers.  It’s good to get exposure for the shops here, and people who’d never been into our shop are now more or less regulars.”

I hesitate to speculate on why the people behind the Norwich lanes Association have taken this decision.  Maybe they are all soccer fanatics and can’t see past the Euro 2024 hype.  Perhaps they just didn’t fancy making the effort this year, and in the supposed football scheduling clash (which is nothing of the sort) saw an opportunity to opt out this year.

I get that the people behind the Norwich Lanes Association are volunteers, and as such they have every right to decide that their love of football is more important than supporting the businesses which make up The Lanes.  But at a time when small, local businesses, especially in retail and hospitality, desperately need our support, it seems an strange decision.  

Especially as if England do somehow make it to the final, the chances are that all of those people watching the match at home will be lining the pockets of huge corporations like Deliveroo and Just Eat instead of spending their money with the kind of local businesses which are the very lifeblood of The Lanes