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A new normal for Norfolk

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  • Picture of Robert Ashton FRSA
    Robert Ashton FRSA
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Robert Ashton FRSA shares some of the work being done by Fellows in Norfolk all of which are responding to Covid19 and will continue as the area looks ahead.

It is said that doctors in my area would once mark the notes of particularly slow-witted patients with the acronym NFN (Normal for Norfolk), as a warning to colleagues not to expect too much. Over the past 20 years Steve Coogan has capitalised on the assumption that Norfolk is a little slow, with his popular character Alan Partridge portrayed presenting a radio show on a fictitious Radio Norwich.

Talk to Norfolk’s RSA Fellows and you get a very different picture of the county, which has a long tradition of innovation and adventure. James Dyson and Admiral Nelson were both raised and schooled in Norfolk, a county that has a rich tradition of ‘doing different.’ The county is a popular destination for Londoners buying second homes with the sea on three sides. But if you stop and look, you will quickly find the place bubbling with bright, fresh ideas that have the potential to transform lives.

Rather than bemoan the relentless cancellation of contracts as a result of the lockdown, RSA Fellow Xenia Horne, who has a succession career as a harpist and creative practitioner, has been working hard to keep a feeling of connectedness and belonging among people who are at risk of isolation and loneliness. She has been programming pop up performances in public spaces and care homes, as well as live music assemblies for primary schools. As Xenia explained: “‘For over 30 years I have devised and delivered creative projects with and for different groups within the community and within education, and seen first-hand the transformative powers of the arts”.

Making music and singing are proven to be powerful ways to build a collective sense of community, yet many schools now offer no music lessons, or even have choirs, dance or drama groups. Xenia is striving to put music back onto the education agenda. “Let’s celebrate the achievements and skills of young people in the wider community, bringing singing into care homes, sharing art in libraries and hospitals, creating outdoor performances in local parks,” she said.

Another Norfolk Fellow working with schools is Nigel Boldero who co-founded the Norfolk Green Care Network, which now has more than 200 members and is helping youngsters and adults connect with nature. As Nigel said: “This is important for promoting health and wellbeing and as an aid to recovery from ill health, whether this be physical or mental”. Nigel learned the value of getting closer to nature from his own experience in both his own garden and as a volunteer gardener at the National Trust’s Blickling Hall.

In 2018 he designed and, with other volunteers, created a ‘healing garden’ at an admissions ward for a large psychiatric hospital, which used plants and other features from a Show Garden at the Sandringham Flower Show. This involved young volunteers from the Prince’s Trust building a garden themed around the ‘five steps to wellbeing’: connect with those around you; be active; take notice of the world around you; keep learning and do something good for the community. Nigel has a real passion for helping deprived communities discover the joy that a stronger connection with the natural world can bring. His network is proactively building partnerships that make a wide range of green care accessible and affordable.

All good things come to an end and however good a life you’ve led, one day it will draw to a close. Improving the lot of those facing bereavement is the mission of Guy Peryer, who lives with multiple sclerosis and is perhaps more aware of his mortality than most. Guy volunteers as a death doula, providing practical help to families facing the approaching death of a loved one. As Guy explained: “I’ve sat and talked with many people who are actively dying and I can say without a shadow of a doubt it has been a real privilege. It has changed my life for the better”. Guy has plans to make Norfolk a compassionate community, where death is not feared and those facing the end are not pushed out of sight, but helped to live full lives until the very end.

Norfolk’s RSA Fellows meet regularly, currently online, but plan to return to their regular monthly drop-in sessions hosted by one of Norwich’s many coffee houses. These provide a useful forum where ideas can be discussed, partnerships brokered and networks shared. Making a difference is for RSA Fellows at least, creating a new meaning to the phrase Normal For Norfolk.


Robert Ashton is an author, social entrepreneur, charity trustee and Quaker. He is currently writing a book that explores how rural life has changed over the past 150 years. Robert@robertashton.co.uk. For further information contact Robert or

Xenia Horne FRSA  @UKHarpists

Nigel Boldero FRSA @NigelBoldero

Guy Peryer FRSA  @guy_per  

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