Visit Worcester: Best places in town to go
PUBLISHED: 10:48 11 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:48 11 August 2020
The city of Worcester is reawakening after her Covid-induced slumber, and is now ready to welcome back visitors
Things of interest on Katie B Morgan’s map:
The Butts: An area used for archery practice
Dragon: Dragon boat racing club
The British Medical Association: Founded at Worcester General Infirmary by Sir Charles Hastings(1794-1866). He attended Worcester Grammar School
‘Glovers needle’: This was St Andrew’s Church, close to the Dents Glove Factory. Most of it was demolished in 1949
Ernie Payne: The ‘Worcester Wonder’, born on London Road. 1908 Olympic gold medallist cyclist
Heraldry: Black Worcester pears and Worcester Permain apples
Books: Kays of Worcester catalogue
Fay Weldon: author born in Worcester in 1931
Logo on compass: Worcester Bosch boilers
Goldfish bowl: Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) was an English naturalist. Gosse created and stocked the first public aquarium at London Zoo in 1853 and his work started the Victorian craze for aquariums
William Richard Morris: creator of the Morris car, born in Worcester in 1877
Sir Thomas Brock (1847-1922): sculptor and medallist. Designed the Victoria memorial outside Buckingham Palace and one of the faces of Queen Victoria on coins
King John (1167-1216): buried in Worcester Cathedral.
Daisy: Ghost of a girl in The Commandery
Battle of Worcester: September 3, 1651, the final action of the English Civil War
The shopping centre and bus station: stand on the site once occupied by the Blackfriars Priory
Anvil: In the 1850s Providence works, metal and tinsmiths, plus Vulcan works in Cromwell Street. They were the first to install power signalling on British railways
Gloves: Fownes Hotel used to be a glove factory
Hannah Snell: born in Worcester (1723-1792). She disguised herself as a man and became a soldier
Sheila Scott (1922-1988): aviator who broke over 100 aviation records
Owl: Wise Owl toys (sadly now closed after 20 years)
Mask logo: Worcester Warriors rugby
Berrows News: founded in 1690, the world’s oldest newspaper
“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.” These are the words of composer Sir Edward Elgar, a famous son of Worcester. For the past few months his bronze statue next to Cathedral Square, normally surrounded by crowds of people as they shop in the city, has been left solitary. Where shoppers once leant against his feet, instead seagulls and pigeons have perched on his head, wondering where everyone was.
The sound of birds singing has certainly been a joy to many of us in these recent months, but as we enter the height of summer, these melodies are mingling with conversation once again as people are braving the High Street. It’s as if the city has woken up after a deep slumber and the message is: “Please come back, traders are waiting for you.” There’s definitely a buzz about and we are drawn to the rich display of vibrant colour and beautiful scent thanks to Flowers of Worcester, at the top of Crowngate Shopping Centre – which has had a prominent presence for 33 years.
Employee Angela Aston, who has been serving customers for 14 years, explained her first day back at work.
“It was very strange but we quickly got back into it. We have done all we can to make ourselves safe and distance as much as we can. Our regulars have come along to support us and told us how good it is to see us again,” she said.
“Some people were already self-isolating before lockdown which came after Mother’s Day so we had so much waste. Flowers like vegetables are all perishable and it has almost been like starting a new business from scratch. We have had to reset the shop and it will take a couple of months before we start to see any profit.”
A couple of doors away, Cornucopia, which sells home accessories and gifts is owned by mother and daughter, Clare and Hannah Bishop. They now have a one-way system in place, beginning with a hand sanitising station.
“It is a time of readjustment and we have had to put all the necessary equipment in place, but we are happy to see all our customers and they in turn seem to be happy to be back,” says Hannah.
Like all cities and towns, Worcester is now full of signs and arrows giving direction to visitors and shoppers and creating a natural flow whilst protecting everyone. My daughters Naomi, Megan and I take note of where to go and carefully move out of Crowngate in the right aisle.
Many city council employees have been redeployed in recent months. Michelle Newell, Economic Development Officer and her colleagues have been out and about in the city centre to chat with traders and gauge how well the social distance rules are working in reality.
“We have put a lot of signs on the pavement and floors, but we are conscious that not everyone looks at their feet, so we are putting some on posts and higher up so they can see. Our aim today is to go into town to see if there are any issues or bottlenecks where we can improve the flow of people. We are also there for the public to ask us questions,” says Michelle.
Inevitably there are those who are apprehensive about coming back to the city to shop. Whilst Worcester’s newly appointed mayor, Jo Hodges can’t do her normal meeting and greeting, she has been doing her best to encourage her community by writing a weekly blog.
As I am invited into the mayor’s parlour, she confesses that normally this stately room would be an oasis to cope with the busy schedule. But like us all, the diary is empty and key dates such as Three Choirs Festival, Elgar Festival and Waterways Festival have all been rubbed out. The Worcester Festival in August is still hoping to go ahead but in a very different format.
Mayor Jo Hodges was virtually elected during lockdown – a very different experience to her first time as mayor 20 years ago.
“Traditionally my role as mayor is to welcome people into the city, support the events that are happening and represent the people of Worcester. It is very much a social role and evolves around meeting people,” she said.
“Of course that hasn’t been happening but I have been able to use my weekly diary, a blog, to send out my thoughts and wishes and to keep people’s spirits up, whilst at the same time understanding how frightened, apprehensive and low in spirit some must feel.”
It’s not just the older population she is concerned about. As a former secondary teacher, the mayor has a heart for the city’s young people and the charities she has chosen to support during her time of office concern the mental health of the younger generation. In the meantime, her wish for Worcester is that it adopts a culture of care and kindness.
“I think it is important to be kind and care about other people. There will be many who will be feeling frightened at this time. We need to be considerate with others and how they may be feeling,” she said.
“I would like to encourage people to come to Worcester and support our shops, who have spent a lot of time getting ready to welcome customers back whilst being careful about social distancing. If possible it would be great if they could come in the week when it is less busy.”
Many independent traders have been innovative in how they ensure business continues. Mark and Michelle Rasdall who own Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe have been amazed by their customers’ support. Sweet-toothed cravings and the urge for simple nostalgic treats during lockdown led to a demand for a delivery service.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support from locals, completely overwhelmed. People have ordered weekly deliveries, family care packages or a cinema night package made up of pick and mix, box of chocolates and cans of drink. We hadn’t done deliveries before but we will carry on now,” said Michelle.
Worcester has a history of surviving war and putting strategic battle plans in motion. The Commandery, set in a beautiful building with an 800-year history is famous for being the Royalist Headquarters during the deciding battle of the English Civil War – the Battle of Worcester 1651.
This year the city has certainly faced a series of battles. February brought the floods and Covid-19 followed not long after. It’s vital that the community rallies together to support each other and the businesses which seek to serve them.
“We hope that people remember their independent shops are here all the time. We don’t get the national back-up and many of us try to go above and beyond to keep our customers happy,” added Michelle.
Before we left the sweet shop, Naomi, Megan and I were challenged to the ultimate sour sweet test. It was my fault for spotting the jar of Black Death pips – uncannily a bit close to the mark in light of the current climate. However we took the gauntlet and sucked the sour offender in victory.
In other parts of Worcester, fellow independent shops have risen to the challenges created by the pandemic and come through victorious. Butchers M & M Meats in St Swithins Street has not stopped reaching out to old and new customers.
“To be honest, our trade has just gone up. A lot of people have been using us,” said Mark Oxley. We have been doing a delivery service, knocking on their doors and leaving their orders on their doorsteps. We have had very good feedback.”
In The Cornmarket, Be The Change, a fully vegan lounge, owned by Anthony Chesher and his wife Zoe, managed to carry on providing plant-based food and drink to customers and those living further afield.
“About a week after lockdown started, customers contacted us to see if we would do home deliveries. We did what we could and it was clear that trade was still quite high,” said Anthony, who launched the business two years ago.
“We have definitely got a wider range of customers than we had three months ago. A lot of chains had to stop but the beauty of being a small independent is that we have flexibility. For bigger chain shops it takes time to implement changes. We have been able to go with what the customers need and want and we have been overwhelmed with the support they have given us.”
The silence over Worcester’s city streets has broken. Once again, as locals and visiting shoppers are negotiating the new rules, the streets are becoming full of chatter and colour. I can’t help wonder that Elgar must secretly smile as he watches on from his plinth in the High Street near Worcester Cathedral. It must be music to his ears.