Campaign to ‘dig deep for Dereham’ gathers pace

Jon Clemo. Photo: Bill Smith

Jon Clemo. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2011

Difficulties faced by town centre businesses have been highlighted as civic leaders, heritage chiefs and rural campaigners back our campaign to Dig Deep for Dereham.

The Times launched the initiative last week to inject to new life and enthusiasm into Dereham's high street and the heart of Norfolk.

In recent months, we have reported on the increasing number of empty shops in the town centre, the growing concern of out-of-town development, traffic congestion, new housing and the need for more independent shops, cafes and restaurants. Now, it is hoped that action can be taken to help make the town thrive.

Backing the Dig Deep for Dereham campaign, town mayor Linda Goreham urged people to 'shop local'.

Mrs Goreham, who used to run a post office with her husband Robin, said: 'Dereham is a vibrant town but when one shop closes and then another, it has a knock-on effect.

'The business rates are high and unless you've run a business, you don't know about all the hidden expenses. But it is a lively town, it's just about getting businesses in and encouraging people to shop local.

'We want people to shop here rather than ping them out to Norwich or King's Lynn, especially as we're a growing town, and if people shop local, they are making businesses more vibrant.'

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She said there was currently a need for stores selling gentlemen's clothes and baby gear, such as prams and cots.

As reported last week, there are currently 12 shops standing empty in the town. It was also stated that, according to figures, the proportion of charity shops is 14.1pc compared to the national average of 8.4pc.

But, there is plenty to be positive about with the Dereham Business Forum driving forward a bid to reduce business rates, fresh life being breathed into some of the vacant stores and the demolition of an 'eyesore', the former Sofas & More store.

Philip Morton, chairman of the Dereham Society, said: 'The launch of Dig Deep for Dereham is a timely response to recent events and we hope will prompt greater public participation in shaping plans for Dereham.

'The future of Dereham is at a crossroads with a record number of empty and charity shops plus a number of sites coming up for development.

'This has happened in parallel with further new developments near Tesco which has moved the centre of gravity for business away from the Market square, including the relocation of Breckland District Council offices, thereby removing potential customers from the centre of town.

'A plan to bring life back into the market square needs a coordinated local government action to drive initiatives such as pedestrianisation, reduced business rates, conversion of retail units to housing, establishment of a bus station and so forth.

'Without a coordinated plan with local support there will continue to be a shelling out of the town centre as business migrates to edge of town sites.

'This need not be the future if sufficient support is given to the Dig Deep for Dereham campaign as a focal point for change.'

Jon Clemo, chief executive of Dereham-based charity Community Action Norfolk, added: 'Market towns are an important characteristic of our county and it's important to make them thrive.

'I would caution against the 'use it or lose it' mentality - the high street needs to resonate with the needs of people who use it. The retail landscape has change quite significantly and continues to change rapidly. The onus is on us to work together to revitalise our high street and ensure it offers something which resonates with consumers.'

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