Thetford bid for Portas cash

A town centre could be rejuvenated by a community group hoping to buy buildings, with help from a national competition launched by Mary Portas.

The School of Radical Thought in Thetford (Sort It), made up of 16 public figures including town councillors and business owners, hopes to take ownership of the town by selling shares for between �25 and �1,000 and using the money to buy redundant shops and buildings.

To get the idea off the ground, Sort It will submit an application to become a Portas Pilot. Launched by high-street tsar Mary Portas, 12 towns will be given a share of �1m and backing from the government and Mary Portas to turn their shopping centres around.

One of the directors of Sort It, Thetford town and Breckland councillor Terry Jermy, said: “We keep talking about regeneration of the high street and the A11 and the riverside but what is actually happening? How are they going to help the rest of Thetford? That’s what Sort It is about.

“So many of our buildings are owned by pension funds and banks and overseas people. They dictate the level of rent and the terms and they’re taking a lot out of the high street. Many of our shop units are also the wrong size. Some are too small to accommodate more well-known retailers, and some are too large to accommodate small, independent businesses. We talk about having ownership but let’s actually have ownership.”

Applicants must submit a blueprint and show how they would transform their high street by March 30.

Sort It is already in talks with the community about how best to transform the town centre and Mr Jermy stressed it would continue with its aims even if it were not successful in the contest.

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Other ideas included the potential for a loyalty or pre-paid card for people to spend on the high street and market and encouraging people to make a conscious effort to shop locally.

“One of the big things we’ve got going for us is that it’s all about recognising the high street as somewhere you go because you want to have a nice time and have something to eat and look at some of the buildings and Thetford has that,” Mr Jermy said.

“She [Portas] also talks about market traders and a national market day and there’s always been a tradi-tion of that in Thetford. We really want to get these people involved.”