If you come to me with a problem I am going to try and fix it. It’s what I do. I do it at work and I do it at home and I’m told it’s an annoying quality because sometimes people just need to moan and vent, to let all their angst out. I’ve been told that sometimes I just need to listen so that’s what I’ve been practising and it’s been an interesting year.

Active Listening in the Workplace - Odgers Interim

I’ve listened to the holiday cottage company owners who have moaned that they are not taking the same quantity of booking as in previous years. I’ve listened to the seal trip owners who complain that this season is quiet, with hardly anyone around. I’ve agreed with the owner of a pub chain that running a business is hard and it’s difficult to make money when everything costs so much and the margins are tight. I’ve even nodded along as the property developers and estate agents have worried that the rising interest rates and impending world war are making their jobs really tough right now.

And I did try and keep quiet, to not say a word but I’m a chatter and it felt like they were coming to me with a problem…

So, what did I say?

I told them about the brother and sister who rented three kayaks from me the summer of 2022 (the third kayak was for their friend). All three, brother, sister and friend, had been coming to Blakeney, for a week every summer, for over fifty years and rented the same three bedroom cottage on Blakeney High street that their parents had rented. They had never tried kayaking before and were excited to re-explore the marshes they felt they knew so well from their childhood. I asked what other plans they had made for the week and they all fell silent and looked to each other for an answer. The sister piped up. This was the only activity they had planned and would be able to do for the week. It cost them each £12 for the hour. The sister explained the cottage they were renting was normally £1500 for the week and the cost they split between the three of them. During Covid the price had risen to £3000. There was some ‘Should we?’ ‘Shouldn’t we?’ discussion about making the annual pilgrimage to North Norfolk but the group decided to pay the £1000 each, even though they couldn’t really afford it. They brought their own food from home and took turns with the cooking and went out for long walks.

‘North Norfolk was already getting too expensive for us,’ the sister told me. ‘The coffee and cakes in any of these cafes, the pub lunches, they are all more expensive than what we pay in London.’

I agreed. I have friends who come and stay with me that live in London and they complain about the price of everything around here too.

‘We probably won’t come again,’ the brother said, ‘This will be our final year’.

It was a depressing exchange, especially as it didn’t stop there. They went on to tell me how busy and exciting Blakeney used to be. All three joined in with vigour, reminiscing and painting a pretty picture of a bustling community where the regular tourists made fast friends and strong ties to the local families they lived alongside for a week or so each summer.

The moral of my story, I tell the moaners, is that everyone is greedy for more money and for more growth. They’ve got the golden goose by the neck as they try to squeeze more eggs from her.

Strangling super goose to get its egg | The Australian

North Norfolk is now too expensive for holiday makers and, in turn for the locals who are also paying the tourist rates whilst living on a rural salary. None of it makes any sense.

Neil and I went for a drink in one of our local pubs after walking the dogs the other weekend. We got talking to the manager at the bar and I asked him if he’d had a busy evening.

‘Rushed off my feet,’ he told me.

‘Really?’ I laughed, ‘Have you done forty covers?’

He didn’t like my sarcasm and asked his colleague to confirm they had been very busy.

‘We’ve done exactly forty covers,’ she said before asking how I knew.

I told her I had been speaking to the manager from another pub and he had told me that the markup on food and drink is now so good, they only need to do forty covers an evening and then they can close up, thus cutting overheads and maximising profits. He even told me how the standard practice is to put reserved signs on tables to stop ‘walk-ins’ from asking for a menu or placing orders. I told the manager that when we were teenagers and worked in pubs, if we had only done forty covers then the night would have been a disaster. He replied by telling me he only has one chef. I counter argued that we only ever had one chef in the kitchen too. So what’s changed?

Expectations: one person's bare minimum, another person's max effort -  Nathan Jamail

Back in the late 90s, when I was a teenager and working in pubs we expected to be busy, to work hard. Just as the pub-goers expected good food at a reasonable price with good service in a pub with a good atmosphere. If we didn’t deliver on any of those elements they would tell us, tell their friends and we’d change or the business would suffer. I can’t remember the last time I went into a pub with a lively and friendly atmosphere where I got good food at a reasonable price and had great service. Actually I can remember, and I think we all lament the loss of the Anchor Inn at Morston – we still miss you Row and Harry. And if the pubs around here are more expensive than the pubs in London, what are they comparable to? I asked this recently to a supplier for the local pubs and the answer given was that we are paying Chelsea London prices with the difference being that if we went out for a meal in Knightsbridge or similar, we would get exceptional food and exceptional service.  The pubs here expect to get forty people who can afford to pay a small fortune for a mediocre menu with rubbish service and with almost every pub around North Norfolk now owned by one of three chains, what choice do we have?

Post by tunatje on Boldomatic

There ARE still great businesses in North Norfolk that are independently owned and have values and goals that go way beyond harvesting exponential growth and profit. The Moorings Bistro in Blakeney is a family run business that offers amazing locally sourced foods and great service at a reasonable price. The Blakeney Garage is a family run business with a dedicated and friendly team focused on offering good service, despite the installation of the self-service pumps. These are just two businesses I’ve thought about off the top of my head. Weston’s wet fish shop is another and also, because I’ve talked about pubs, I need to mention The Dun Cow at Salthouse, an independent pub where Dan and his team work hard, doing way more than 40 covers in a shift, and are always welcoming. This list of local champion businesses could go on and maybe it should because perhaps that’s one of the ways we affect change, by letting tourists and locals know there is a choice. We local residents need to respectfully ask all of those companies and developers who have their hands around the neck of the golden goose to stop and let her live because if she dies we all starve. Without a collective change to the prices charged around here there will be no one left for the family businesses, that just want to earn a living and create employment opportunities, to serve or sell to. Also, we as the customer or client, should not expect over priced food or bad service. We should ask the developer what investment he’s made to enrich the community of the village he is profiting from. Vote with your feet, as they say, and put your time and money into those businesses who have earned and deserve it, not those who expect it just because…..

Ten reasons to shop locally

I am determined not to be part of the problem. Personally, Neil and I have looked at our own business and constant growth is hard, especially in this economic climate, and what is it really for? You have a bigger business, you have bigger problems and what is it you are really chasing other than money?  When I imagine being old and looking back on my life and the business Neil and I created and grew, I want to feel proud of the service we offered, the relationships we built and the opportunities we offered. Equally I want my hard earned money to support other businesses who care more about customer relationships and offering good service than growing that bottom line. I steadfastly refuse to use a self-service checkout when a human is available, even if there is a queue and I’m in a hurry. I am tired of my money going into the pockets of business that are owned by hedge funders and private equity firms. They don’t care about me, I’m not even a column on their spreadsheet. At the risk of sounding political, where are the monopolies regulations in all this as more vets, farms and water companies are bought out by the same groups and chains? I feel like us independent, small businesses are the last bastion of the free market and natural laws of competition.


Now you need to decide, was this post me just having a moan or asking you to help me solve a problem?


5 comments on “A problem Shared

  1. Angela Bucksey on

    All you have written reflects everything I and my husband have thought and talked about over the last two years. I’m not sure how we can reverse some of the change but we do all we can to slow it down by keep on supporting local businesses – even if means paying a little more. Ok for some who can afford the choice and all very laudable if it’s possible (ie there is a choice) but sometimes this just isn’t the case. Our local pub has just closed its doors and it’s very unlikely to reopen. The economics simply don’t work for an owner/landlord. So, no, you are not alone in recognising the change and doing your bit to stem the tide. It might seem a bit of a King Canute’ task but if we don’t try we are the ones that will lose.

  2. Poppy Hollins-Gibson on

    I was brought up in North Norfolk. For the last 35 years I have booked holiday cottages in Blakeney. Originally for two weeks, (£320 week) then as the children wanted to bring their friends, I booked for three weeks, then as they left home just two weeks again. Last year the price had gone up so much, we reduced the amount of times we ate out, this year I have only booked for one week. To charge over a thousand pounds for a tiny two bed cottage with no parking and no garden/sitting out area is just bonkers.

  3. Andrew M on

    Brilliant blog Richenda! Great to see after a long break. Beautifully written and I think you hit a lot of nails on the head – from property exploitation to private equity leeches to the disappearance of affordable local pubs. I started writing a long reply but after 5 pages decided it was a bit OTT! Please do write again soon.


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