Settee of Stories: An Interview with Marion Catlin

Norwich. A city of mavericks and makers, creators and trail blazers. A big-hearted city beneath even bigger skies, and open air, open minds. In Norwich, everyone has a story to tell. And we’ll be sure to tell it. Every month, we’ll be sitting down with local writers, designers, makers, artists and influencers to discuss life in Norwich. This week we’re joined by cultural consultant, publisher and connector at Culture Shift Norwich, Marion de Mello Catlin.

26 July 2021

Marion de Mello Catlin

Tell us about your background in Norwich…

I’ve been in Norwich a long time now, though born in Essex. I arrived in Norfolk with my parents aged 15, went away again a couple of times and eventually came back to do a degree course at Norwich School of Art (now NUA) in 1989. I was a single parent  then with two children and when I graduated, I chose to stay so that they could grow up here. Also I found it a very receptive and creative place with a very active creative community so it wasn’t a difficult choice.

As many people know, it is a hard place to leave. For the last 25 years I have lived in Trowse Millgate on the fringes of the city and nearly into Trowse. It is a great place to operate from with easy access to the city and countryside and great neighbours all around us. My partner is a craft joiner and designer and has a workshop in the arches next to our home. The children are now grown up but still live in Norwich too and I have the pleasure of two gorgeous grand-daughters, Ella and Pearl who also keep me busy.

Marion de Mello Catlin

How did you get into your career, and why did you pursue this in Norwich? 

I was working in Communications and Culture at the Council when Norwich bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2003. I ended up in the thick of the bidding process which opened a door to cultural development and my personal mission became ‘developing and promoting Norwich as a City of Culture’ – combining my two sets of skills – comms and cultivating people’s creativity and helping to make things happen.

Although we didn’t win, the bid became our cultural strategy and triggered much investment in the city, including the National Centre for Writing, Norwich Puppet Theatre, N&N Festival and the general professionalisation of the arts in Norfolk.

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival takes places annually in May, with music, performance, literary events and more.

I worked with cultural cities across the UK and it was a very exciting time, both for Norwich and for me. I also co-directed Norwich Fringe Festival for several years and have since co-founded Norwich Hackspace in Muspole Street. My projects are too numerous to mention but connecting people to activities became a mission that has kept me busy since then. For the last ten years I have been freelance – a consultant for city and place-making, running projects and research and my own publications Art in Norwich and Music in Norwich which are now well-established. Norwich is such a responsive place that it was an easy choice to make – in many ways, Norwich chose me.

What do you love most about Norwich and Norfolk and why? 

I think I love its ‘can-do’ spirit, its independent nature and refusal to be like everywhere else. When I talk about Norwich, of course, I am talking about the people that live here, that make up the city and the county. There is a DIY vibe, not waiting around for ‘someone else to do it’. The independence.

I love the connectedness – we can be in the thick of London at the drop of a hat and also we are in easy reach of fabulous coastlines, The Broads and countryside. We have it all here and the big corporates don’t generally find the place profitable enough so they go elsewhere. I think that has saved us from the clone-city effect to some extent – though we have to fight for that and repel boarders.


Beautiful beaches, such as this one at Cromer, are only a short drive, train or bus journey away from Norwich.

That doesn’t mean ‘no-changes’ but we have a very distinctive place and city personality and it is a danger to allow developments that want to make us more like Manchester or Birmingham – I love them  as place too but we are different with a different history.

The walkability, the market, the tight medieval street pattern, Norwich Lanes, the community of people that make things happen, the independent shops, bars and cafes. The creativity. The ‘do different’ attitude. The commitment to long-term support for culture in the city and county.

Norwich Market is full of independent retailers serving up the best food, drink, clothing and more.

Favourite places to eat in Norwich and Norfolk?

To eat, The Bicycle ShopXO Kitchen, Woolf & Social, Gonzo’s Tea Room, Haggle and Mr Mangal are our go-to places in Norwich – we like casual, mixed culture food. For family birthdays it is usually Pizza Express or Mambo Jambo that gets the vote.

In Norfolk, we love the Gunton Arms, Mary Jane’s & No1 (Cromer), Galante Portuguese restaurant (Great Yarmouth) though there are many great places that we encounter when exploring.

We also like our locals – River Green vegetarian restaurant and the White Horse pub. For a treat, The Ingham Swan or the Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross.

The Norwich Market is also a great place to hang out and try different foods whilst buying veg and other basics.

Norwich Market

Quite often we will get on our bikes to somewhere like the Bramerton Woods End pub and sit outside near the river. At the moment, we are enjoying heading to Great Yarmouth for a stroll on the beach, a cuppa and some chips – no class us! Anywhere with good fish and chips wins out as they are hard to resist.

Favourite places for a coffee / drink?

There are many great places for a drink. For coffee in Norwich, it has to be Strangers and Expresso – the coffee is great in both and I often get a takeaway from Strangers on impulse as I can’t resist their flat white. Meeting with friends, then Café 33, Merchant House or Sahara are good.

Photo: coffee at Strangers

Bars, well my partner has been brewing his own lately – a very respectable IPA so home is favourite for a G&T and a pint but we love Franks, The Garnet, The Artichoke – to be honest I’m a bit out of practice on that front after a year and a half of lockdown and staying home. The Alexandra Tavern and the Trafford Arms – you can’t go wrong with them, they have stood by us for years. I guess as things open up we will have to work out where we can go all over again.

What did you miss most during lockdowns, and what are you looking forward to now restrictions have been eased?

I did quite well during lockdown as the village of Trowse and our neighbourhood Trowse Millgate is a close and friendly community so I didn’t feel too cut-off, but I think what I missed most (and still do) was the chance encounters where you bump into people, have a chat, catch up on news and who is doing what.

Also, I used to organise Wednesday Jam, a music night which was at Platform Twelve till it closed and then at Gonzo’s Tea Room, bringing together musicians and performers for casual get-togethers once a month. We haven’t been able to do that since March 2020 though we tried to keep it going online for a while but it wasn’t the same.

I think I have kind of lost the habit of going out and I miss that. Having the Norfolk & Norwich festival gave me a taster of a former life though and I hope that Head Out, Not Home might have the same effect that is, to remind me what going out is all about!

Head Out Not Home, 2019, street performer

Head Out Not Home takes place in Norwich across the summer, bringing free live music and performance.

For a while I missed exhibitions but lately I have been going out to plenty –  the new Art in Norwich booklet has been informing me of the best events (they are all fab) including Mandell’s, Fairhurst Galleries, Raveningham Sculpture Trail, The Undercroft and many more – you can now get one by post from if you want to know what’s on when and where

I found Zoom very positive though and I enjoyed keeping in touch with some arts colleagues in our twin city of Rouen in Normandy. We have strengthened connections and are plotting some artists residencies, exchanges and projects over the next couple of years, maybe even a Rouen/Norwich festival in 2023 exchanging beer, food, arts and much more, fingers crossed.

What does Norwich mean to you, and what’s your favourite memory of the city?

Norwich means friends and colleagues, and constant ‘too much to do’ – which is a good thing! There is so much going on. Choice, and the ability to enjoy simple things like walks, bike rides and beaches as well as world-class art such as Grayson Perry at Sainsbury Centre, Norwich Castle and East Gallery, Houghton Hall, and many very creative locally based artists. But mostly the community of creative people that are tirelessly working to make art of all kinds giving us a vibrant active city – which many people envy.

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts Sculpture Park

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is the place to go for art and culture in Norwich.

My favourite memory? There are so many but it is hard to beat the Factory Years of the Norwich Fringe Festival at the old Bally shoe factory in Hall Road (now an Asda). We created such a buzz on opening night and then there were two weeks of events and performances, an arts trail around the city – over 250 artists and performers and we made it all happen on a shoestring with the support of local businesses, including Targetfollow who trusted us with the building for five years – it also became year-round artist studios. Probably the proudest achievement and I made life-long friends.

Many moments in the Norfolk & Norwich Festival – the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma (a 24hour theatre performance), sitting next to Philip Glass in the Spiegeltent watching a very raunchy cabaret (he was very New York and not very chatty!) Maceo Parker at Theatre Royal – some real world class shows of unusual work. And being asked to contribute to this blog!

Overall, Norwich means being home with the best quality of life.