Thetford: Another dying high street or a town embracing tech?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:21 01 March 2019
ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC © 2009
Like many towns, Thetford's high street is struggling under the weight of stagnating wages and competition from the internet.
For almost a third of respondents to a survey by this newspaper, the health of the high street is the number one concern for Thetford residents.
Half of respondents ranked the issue of the health of the high street as 10 out of 10 in the survey, with many listing a lack of town centre shops and the closure of shops as an problem the town must face.
Problems with schemes aimed at opening up the high street such as Kings Square with its broken clock and non-functional fountain, built for £600,000 in 2013, have exacerbated problems and led to anger from residents.
Ian Hilton, who runs J Jones’ Family Butchers on King Street, has been based on Kings Street for eight years, with the shop existing as a butchers for decades.
He said: “There is obviously a decline in it since the bank has gone and a lot of other shops going. That square that they have done over there is a disaster. It is a terrible mess and a waste of money.
“We are doing okay, we do quite well and people come from around the area to come here but you do notice out on the street that there is fewer people about and I have heard other places are struggling.”
However, the butcher believes it is not local people turning their back on the town centre in favour of the internet and bigger stores.
For the businessman, it goes much deeper.
He said: “A lot of local people do try to shop local if they can but they haven’t got their greengrocer any more, they haven’t got the fishmonger to be on the market. But they are running out of things to be local with.
“The community has kept us going. You could do with a big shop in the centre. Stop spreading it out. Why are you building the retail park out of the town when you’ve got these empty premises in the town? That could do with a nice mini-market to regenerate it but how you get these people in here I can’t say.
“You need to get something in these empty places and not just charity shops, but what goes in there?”
Thetford mayor Roy Brame has run a business in Thetford for four decades and has moved around the town as the business of retail has changed.
He said: “The multinationals are not helped so much which gives us a problem because they look to have a certain amount of footfall before they open or stay open, which is what is happening to Thetford.
“The town has not got a catchment area. The problem has always been is that once you get outside of Thetford, those people do not come in to Thetford.”
Thetford Entreprise Park - 30 years of broken promises or an unrivalled opportunity?
The Thetford Enterprise Park (TEP) could be the catalyst for high paid, high quality jobs for Thetford.
But for many, thirty years of broken promises since the site, west of Mundford Road, was allocated for employment, are proving difficult to swallow.
Beset by infrastructure issues since 1989, the site has seen a new access roundabout built and an agreement for the sustainable urban expansion to provide much-needed water and electricity.
For mayor Roy Brame, continued investment into unlocking the TEP must continue for new, high tech jobs to come to Thetford.
He said: “I honestly believe that this town and the TEP should be the catalyst to make this town the place that people really want to live.
“What we need is to keep pushing these organisations that talk about the tech corridor which joins Cambridge University to UEA to Snetterton and we have now got this infrastructure road in the A11.
“I want to see Thetford as the tech destination.”
Charles Burrell Centre
Five years ago the Charles Burrell High School closed, with the Thetford Academy moving to a new £18m site in Croxton Road.
A community was left with a shell of a building, left behind by the school with no obvious future use.
However, in 2014, the Charles Burrell Centre (CBC), a community centre providing local groups and activities and local independent businesses as well as larger businesses a new home, right in the middle of the community.
Five years on, the centre is thriving with tenants such as Hertz and will later this year launch its own grounds maintenance company.
Chair of the CBC board, Terry Jermy, believes the impact of the centre is huge for Thetford but said how they quantify that impact and success is the challenge going forward.
“It never ceases to amaze me what goes on at CBC in terms of the sheer variety of groups. We now have services available in Thetford that were never available before. West Suffolk College were not based here, the NHS now run services from here that were never available from here.
“We have a whole community during the day and you come in the evening and it is entirely different. In the evening it is a lot of young people and activities and during the day it is a lot more corporate with businesses.
“It is never a dull day.”
For Mr Jermy, the centre does in many ways reflect the community spirit and diversity of the town.