What Wymondham got right: How town got huge growth with high satisfaction

Wymondham town centre, new developments and mayor Kevin Hurn.

New developments (upper inset) are springing up on the edge of Wymondham. We asked mayor Kevin Hurn (lower inset) and others what the town's secret to successful growth is. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

It’s been rated among the very best places to live in Britain, even with its large growth in houses. While other Norfolk towns have struggled to cope with new developments, Wymondham appears to be going from strength to strength. NOAH VICKERS tries to find out its secret

Walking into Wymondham’s market place on a midweek afternoon, it’s easy to see why the place is so popular.

Known as the birthplace of Kett’s Rebellion - an uprising against the enclosure of land in 1549 - the town is blessed with several tourist attractions, among them its stunning abbey, heritage museum and the Mid Norfolk Railway. 

And Wymondham’s charms can even take locals by surprise. 

Retired couple Mick and Trudi Bateman, who have lived just a few miles away in Mulbarton for six years, said they had never properly looked round the town before visiting this week.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Mick and Trudi Bateman
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Mick and Trudi Bateman Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“We just came in for a walk and to have a look at the abbey - it’s very historic”, said Mrs Bateman, who added that the pair would “definitely come again”.

In the ten years from 2001 to 2011, Wymondham’s population grew by 15pc from 12,539 to 14,405 - and by 2020 the numbers living there were estimated at almost 17,000. Hundreds more homes are on the way.

Yet the growth has been felt in remarkably subtle ways for much of the town - which was named in 2018 by the Sunday Times as one of the best places to live in Britain.

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Michelle Howard, a 49-year-old accountant who has lived in Wymondham for 20 years, said she “absolutely loved” living there. 

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Michelle Howard
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Michelle Howard Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“I can’t say I’ve noticed any major changes.”

She added that there were excellent pubs, a good garden centre and - unlike many similar towns - it still has plenty of banks. 

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Robert Outing, 57, who works on the railways, said the only changes he’d seen in his seven years in Wymondham - at least in the town centre - had been caused by Covid, but that businesses were now bouncing back.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Robert Outing
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Robert Outing Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“I can’t say anything bad about it really… I wouldn’t like to live anywhere else.

“Being in the town centre itself, I don’t see much of the outskirts, but obviously driving in and out, [you can see] it is expanding,” he said. 

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

One of Wymondham's new developments. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Large housing developments have sprung up on land east and south of the town - with some of the new homes still within easy walking distance of the railway station.

Maisie Beastall, an NHS physio worker, moved with her husband and two daughters from inner Norwich to one of the new developments, after hearing about the town’s good schools.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Maisie Beastall
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Maisie Beastall Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“We liked walking into Norwich, and we like being able to walk into Wymondham, so it ticked all the boxes really,” said Mrs Beastall. 

“Before our eldest reached school age, we knew we needed to move, so we just had to decide where.  

“We popped into Wymondham and thought it was nice.

“We’ve got an amazing vets and the GP practice is very good… I just like it, it’s quite a cute little town really, and [there are] good cafes.”

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Wymondham’s 55-year-old mayor, Kevin Hurn, said the town’s transport links - including the railway line and dualled A11 road - were a major sell for buyers wanting to enjoy the best of countryside, town and city. 

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Mayor of Wymondham Kevin Hurn
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Mayor of Wymondham Kevin Hurn Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Norwich is 15 minutes away on the train and Cambridge just over an hour - making both easily commutable. 

Mr Hurn - a Conservative who sits on both the town and district councils - said: “We know we need development to be a thriving town, but what we have got to our advantage is a lot of very good employers in and around the town.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“We’ve got all the shops, the industrial estates, we’ve got Lotus Cars, the Hethel Engineering Centre, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the Norwich Research Park.

“So we form part of a triangle of innovation, really, where we’ve got so many cutting-edge technologies right on our doorstep, and that gives great employment opportunities for people who live here or move here.”

Mr Hurn said Wymondham had “evolved more gradually than some towns and villages and this has given time for new developments to be accepted and mature to become part of the townscape”.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

But just as crucial to the town’s success in ensuring development does not spoil its charms has been a proactive approach by councillors to protect its most cherished features. 

“We’re almost at the position now of completing our neighbourhood plan - that’s due for submission to South Norfolk Council fairly soon,” said Mr Hurn, who is now in his third term as mayor.  

“Within that plan, there are areas of the town that we want to preserve… the Tiffey Valley, the views north of Tuttles Lane, the Lizard, Toll’s Meadow, and the views out to the south of the town as well."

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

This tactic is beginning to come under strain however, as the town has expanded asymmetrically from the centre, threatening some of the so-called “strategic gaps” of countryside that separate Wymondham from its satellite villages. 

One of the most noticeable is the fast-shrinking gap between the town and neighbouring Hethersett - a buffer of countryside Mr Hurn said councillors were “fighting to maintain”.

By 2038, Wymondham is planned to accommodate some 2,600 new homes - the most of anywhere in all of south Norfolk district.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

While Mr Hurn acknowledged there were concerns around infrastructure sometimes being “slow to materialise”, he pointed out that an approved neighbourhood plan - a document outlining the town’s priorities and policies when it comes to housing - would entitle Wymondham to more money from the Community Infrastructure Levy, a charge placed on developers by local authorities.

He said these funds could be spent on improving some of the town’s recreational spaces, among other projects.

And he added that more facilities were needed in some of the town’s more far-flung corners, such as a new school in south Wymondham - earmarked in the forthcoming developments. 

Looking to the future, Mr Hurn said he expected Wymondham to remain popular as a place for people to easily commute from.

“I think it will become more of a feature, as the road network improves. We know that we’ve possibly got the Western Link likely to happen, which will complete a route right around Norwich.”

Fakenham Road where the proposed Western Link route would join just before the roundabout. Picture:

Wymondham mayor Kevin Hurn said he supported the construction of the Norwich Western Link road - Credit: Danielle Booden

Mr Hurn said he was in favour of the road’s construction, which would link the A47, north of the town, with the Northern Distributor Road, north-west of Norwich. 

“I support the Western Link, because I think we’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” said the mayor.

“I care about the environment, but I also know that we have to make progress - and that’s really what this town has been about.

“We know that if we just stagnate, we die - so we have to evolve."


A centuries-old grudge: Wymondham and its abbey

Founded as a monastery in 1107, Wymondham Abbey is the town’s prime attraction - but its stunning beauty hides a centuries-old acrimony.

What makes Wymondham work so well?
Byline: Sonya Duncan

What makes Wymondham work so well? Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“The abbey and the townsfolk have been contentious right back to the dissolution of the monasteries - and before that,” said Wymondham mayor Kevin Hurn.

“There has always been, for some reason, throughout history, times when the abbey and the people of the town have not seen eye to eye.” 

Mr Hurn recently called for an end to a row between the abbey’s vicar - the Rev Catherine Relf-Pennington - and Bishop of Norwich Graham Usher.

This latest dispute dates back to 2017, when 37 complaints were made against the newly-appointed Revd Relf-Pennington, alleging inappropriate behaviour - all of which she denied.

After the bishop published a series of recommendations to the vicar, and ordered her to apologise, the vicar and abbey wardens hit back, alleging they had been the victim of "false allegations, delays and threats".

Mr Hurn said in January: "The whole issue is to the detriment of Wymondham. It affects prayer, worship, wellbeing and tourism, which is something every town needs now especially as we're trying to come out of the pandemic.”