Thetford: A town defined by growth and development
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:21 01 March 2019
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In the second of our series focusing on key issues in some of our largest towns Conor Matchett puts the spotlight on Thetford
From a population of 5,000 to more than 24,000 in the space of 150 years, Thetford’s growth has been rapid, substantial, and at times unwanted.
Even today, 50 years after the first families from London moved into the Abbey Farm estate, the town continues to expand.
Over the next decade Thetford will see another 5,000 homes built as part of the sustainable urban extension which will see a town many believe to be already straining at the seams grow to around 40,000 people.
While schools and a community centre, as well as cycle lanes and bus routes are planned as part of the new estate, there is little in the way of plans for new doctor’s surgeries, dentists, or a new secondary school.
The mayor of Thetford, Roy Brame, who is also a district and county councillor, said the town needs to grow to make the most of the opportunities it has, such as the Thetford Enterprise Park.
He said: “I have always said you have got a choice. You can go back to the 1940s, let these factories close and fall down, nobody will go there and no-one will go there and the town will get smaller and the few people who live here will have quite a nice lifestyle.
“They will live here and they have got a Sainsburys and a Tesco and life will go on, or you look at the area you live in and say this should be the place that everybody wants to live and not just in Norfolk.”
Mr Brame pointed out doctors and dentists only arrive after development, and criticised a planning system which can leave towns short of services.
He added: “I do understand the concerns. With the new houses in the second phase the schools are in the plans. I think people will see that type of infrastructure.
“Unfortunately today the doctors and dentists become a bigger problem because it is not something we can legislate for.”
Terry Jermy, a town, district and county councillor, spoke against the new development at the planning inquiry but now believes the development is necessary.
He said: “There will be demand for more services to go with them, it’s not happy days you are just going to get a lot of money, there will be a requirement for us to provide new services.
“Thetford was always going to grow, the land was there and housing is needed. I think the priorities of the right sort of housing we don’t have enough of.
“Rents in Thetford are very high as a proportion of people’s income there is an imbalance but lots of issues we face are the same as other areas particularly around doctors and dentists and the town centre.”
A town of integration and immigration
Thetford’s recent history has been dominated by migration into the town.
People have arrived into Thetford from not only eastern European countries such as Poland, Russia, and Lithuania in recent years, with the Portugeuse arrival at the end of last century sandwiched by families arriving from London in the 1960s and 70s.
Integrating cultures and different world views has always been a challenge for the town, but one shining example of where it can work is Teaching Polish Language in Thetford, based out of the Charles Burrell Centre.
Run by Anna Gasiorowska, who moved to Norfolk for a better education for her children, there was a clear need to provide quality Polish language education for the large diaspora in the town.
She said: “The polish community is second and third generation. Thetford is amazing. I do find some polish people can be closed off and don’t want to speak with English people.
“But I want to try even if I do get confused sometimes. The mix is a good thing.”
For Mrs Gasiorowska, the difficult relationship between eastern European migrants and English people is understandable, but that both sides must make an effort.
She added: “I teach polish language to English people such as doctors.
“I know some people worry about money and some worry about foreign people taking their jobs and benefits, but I have English friends and nobody has said that I am bad.”
Not everything is plain sailing for people in the polish community and while it is clear integration has been a long term problem, Mrs Gasiorowska says that she understands why it is difficult for some to accept new people into the town.
She said: “Others say that polish people only stay at shops and drink beer, but this is beer that English people drink as well because it is very cheap and very strong.
“I do try to understand English people because if you do live here for only five/ten years it is not your home, it is like a hotel, you don’t worry about the walls or the decorations or the furniture so I understand where that comes from.”