Dig Deep for Dereham - our new campaign to inject fresh life into the heart of Norfolk
Dig deep for Dereham - that is our rallying call as the Dereham Times today launches a new campaign to inject to new life and enthusiasm into the town'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, we are standing side-by-side with Dereham Business Forum to help our town thrive.
As part of the campaign, we will:
* Investigate why more and more shops are closing.
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* Encourage people to use local, shops and services.
* Take a look back at Dereham's High Street of the past.
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* Highlight what is good about the town.
* Promote events and activities which support and bring people into Dereham.
* Discover more about the issues retailers are facing - including high business rates, anti-social behaviour and shoplifting.
* Encourage the community to work together for the good of the town.
Dereham Times editor Adam Lazzari said: 'It has been difficult for people to see a long line of well-established shops close in recent months and there are worries about the future direction of Dereham, but there is also a lot to be positive about and a lot of good people out there working for the good of the town.
'We hope you will all throw your weight behind this campaign to help our town thrive and improve for many years to come.'
According to a Breckland Retail Study, which was carried out last year on behalf of Breckland Council, the number of empty shops in Dereham, which at the time was 11.1pc, is similar to the national average of 12.1pc.
The report acknowledges that the number of vacant units has increased since 2010, putting it down to the economic downturn.
Dereham is also considered to be most popular town within Breckland for non-food shopping with a good mix of national retailers and smaller independent traders.
According to the figures, there is a higher than average proportion of national chains with a low proportion of clothing and footwear stores. And the proportion of charity stores is 14.1pc compared to the national average of 8.4pc.
Roger Atterwill, chairman of Dereham Business Forum, welcomed the Times' campaign.
He said: 'It's important we have a thriving market town where we have employment and facilities.
'Whether there's argument for and against, we are going to have significant housing growth and we don't want Dereham to be somewhere people sleep and then just head down the A47 to Norwich or King's Lynn.
'It is the heart of the county.'
Mr Atterwill put a number of closures down to high business rates and rents in the town and the business forum has formally asked Breckland Council to look into the issue.
He said charities get a reduction of up to 80pc on business rates, hence the higher proportion of such stores in the town.
Meanwhile, work is yet to start on phase two of the Wright's Walk development and the Cowper Road site.
Mr Atterwill added: 'We need more independent shops, that's for sure. They tend to be community-focussed, they live locally, raise their families locally, and they are the sort of businesses we want in the town.
'And we want to promote our market.'
Dereham Business Forum currently has 115 members. To find out more or to join, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a story for our Dig Deep for Dereham campaign? Email email@example.com